You can’t catch a cold from a friend online, but a new study hints that you can catch a mood from cyber pals. Research from the University of California-San Diego says dour posts and updates related to finances and money can subconsciously prompt you to have a negative attitude about money.
Just how contagious is a bad Facebook mood? Researchers found that one negative post in your Facebook news feed or on your wall triggers a trail of gloom, leading to 1.29 more negative posts among your cyber friends.
“We have enough power in this data set to show that emotional expressions spread online,” notes lead author James Fowler, professor of political science and of medical genetics at UC-San Diego. “It is possible that emotional contagion online is even stronger than we were able to measure.”
Researchers believe negative status updates can ripple through social networks, sparking a large-scale cluster of unhappy people. In an attempt to keep up with the unhappy cyber Joneses, reading all of that negativity and unhappiness can be bad for your wallet.
Experts say a Facebook feed filled with doom and gloom can have you turning your back on your budget to soothe a sour mood (who hasn’t relied on a little retail therapy at some point?) or leave you thinking that your finances are already hopeless, that there’s no use trying to salvage them, so you might as well splurge and spend. Feeling blue or stressed by all the negativity also could leave your defenses down and find you more susceptible to an impulse purchase.
Shutting down your Facebook account isn’t really an option. Many users think of the connection to long-lost high school pals, neighbors who moved off the block and college roomies now living across the country as a lifeline. But that doesn’t mean Facebook has to doom you to a life filled with poor financial decisions or posts that prompt you to start digging yourself into debt.
Here’s how to keep from catching — or spreading — a bad mood on Facebook. And, if you do happen to catch one, how to keep it from sending your finances spiraling out of control.
Cut it out. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at California State University, says there’s really only one way to deal with friends whose updates are chronically of the woe-is-me or the doom-and-gloom variety. “You should block their news from showing up on your feed,” she advises. That way you can still be cyber pals, but the negativity won’t seep into your updates and thoughts.
Not keen on blocking negative friends? These strategies can help prevent a bad Facebook mood from drowning your finances in a sea of red.
Set a positive example. You sometimes can shut down sour threads by posting something upbeat, Durvasula says. Even if that doesn’t stamp out the gloom, it can leave you feeling more positive about the experience and less likely to transfer the negativity to your finances.
Picture positivity. Stop a bad mood before it strikes by keeping a picture of your kids, pet or favorite vacation spot next to your monitor. That way, if you do spot something negative on Facebook, you’ve got a positive diversion to point you back in the right direction.
Get personal. Try having a heart-to-heart before unfriending a pal who constantly hijacks your threads with dour updates or whose own status updates are consistently blue. “Sometimes, a personal conversation works better than dressing someone down in public with a ‘don’t post things like this on my wall’ or than unfriending them altogether,” Durvasula says. However, if after your chat they’re still notoriously sour, it’s time to re-evaluate whether you want to count them among your Facebook friends.
Don’t spark a bad mood. To prevent starting a bad mood, Durvasula recommends thinking about how you want to be perceived when you’re tempted to post “I’m having such a bad day.” She suggests sparing your entire social network from your grumpiness and talking with a close friend instead. The personal connection will often be more meaningful than a news feed full of random comments.
“Remember negativity diminishes you and can lead people to be less likely to want to spend time with you or listen to you,” Durvasula says.
Stick to it. Finding it difficult to stop adding a snarky comment or jumping on the woe-is-me bandwagon? Durvasula says if you’re prone to these types of interactions on Facebook, put a sticker on your computer that says, “Keep it upbeat.”
“Tack up any sort of note that reminds you to not go dark,” she says. “And if you’re uncertain whether a post could lead to contagious negativity, ask a trusted — upbeat — pal to review it before you click ‘Post.’”
Trust me, your finances will thank you when sticking to positive online interactions help you stay on a debt-free financial course.
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