If the world is looking for a go-to expert on links between Twitter and heart health, the University of Pennsylvania might just be the place. Earlier this year, The Telegraph reported on a study entitled "Psychological Language on Twitter Predicts County-Level Heart Disease Mortality" conducted at the university and written up in the journal Psychological Science. Now a study is underway at the University of Pennsylvania, funded by a three-year, $668,114 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), called "Twitter and Cardiovascular Health."
According to a description of the grant proposal, the study aims to not only gather data about heart problems by evaluating tweets, but ultimately validate Twitter users with heart disease and use the medium to deliver "high impact" heart disease-related information "to improve patient activation and disease management."
While this present study seeks to use Twitter to help improve health, the previous study was more focused on the relationship between "emotional language" in tweets and the heart health of the users. The Telegraph article, entitled "Angry tweeting 'could increase your risk of heart disease,'" explains:
Drawing on a set of public tweets made between 2009 and 2010, the researchers found that communities where words like 'hate' or expletives were tweeted frequently were found to have higher rates of heart disease mortality.
Positive emotional language showed the opposite correlation, suggesting that optimism and positive experiences – words like 'wonderful' or 'friend' – may be protective against heart disease.
The National Institutes of Health was not entirely happy with The Telegraph's report on the study, or at least not with the way the story was headlined. Shortly after the story ran, the NIH published a lengthy explanation of the study on its website. The NIH suggested a more accurate headline would have been "Stress and other negative psychological emotions increase risk of heart disease, and these people are more likely to send angry tweets," (effectively demonstrating the tension between accuracy and brevity in headline writing in the process.)
The researcher who wrote the program description is Raina M. Merchant, an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. According to the university's website, Dr. Merchant "runs a Twitter lab which analyzes tweets related to resuscitation, critical care, and public health/policy." Merchant also "conducted several projects evaluating health communication on social/mobile media sites like Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, Gigwalk, and others."
An email to Dr. Merchant seeking more details on the program was answered by an out-of-office automated reply, and a followup email to Penn's Social Media Lab of which Merchant is the director was not returned.