It's Not Just You: Dark Clouds Are Linked with Darker Moods

Weather really can affect our mood—or at least the way we express our emotions on social media, according to a study published Wednesday in PLOS One. The study analyzed more than 3.5 billion social media posts, mostly from Facebook, with a standard protocol that uses a list of words that are associated with positive and negative emotions.

In general, people use more “happy” words in their social media posts when the temperature outside is over 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and ideally between 68 and 77 degrees.

In Savannah, Georgia, that means Wednesday, April 25 really is the perfect date. At 11 a.m., it was 66 degrees with a forecast high of about 78 degrees. So, not too cold, not too hot. All you need is a light jacket. (Yes, Miss Congeniality fans, that’s for you. But this paper wasn't published on this date on purpose, the authors noted.)

It’s also sunny in Savannah and the humidity is below 80 percent, which means people’s moods should be a bit better than they are in New York, where, as of writing it’s raining with 100 percent humidity. The more rainy and humid a place gets, the more negative posts researchers found on social media.

cherry blossom stockholm People take pictures under cherry trees in full blossom at Kungstradgarden in central Stockholm on April 25, 2018. A new paper published April 25 shows that social media posts are notable more positive on days with better weather and notably more negative on days with lousy weather. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Weather's effect on our moods is actually noticeable. When temperatures are below freezing, the effect on a person's mood is on the same scale—about half a percentage point less positive—as the anniversary of 9/11 has on New Yorkers' moods and the end of Daylight Savings Time for people living in northern cities. 

This seems like amusing research but the implications could be serious. Findings like these might be relevant as climate change happens. Weather is different from climate—but climate produces weather, Nick Obradovich, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab and one of the authors of the paper, told Newsweek.

“What we are trying to do with this paper, in some ways, is to think about the ways that climate affects us through its meteorological distributions—through its weather,” he said. “If weather doesn’t matter at all, then climate isn’t going to matter at all,” he said.

Understanding how weather affects our mood over the short-term might help us understand how we might react as climate changes. For example, Obradovich and his colleagues are trying to figure out if people psychologically adapt to prolonged heat waves.

Given the discussions about researchers collecting social media data, particularly regarding Facebook, Obradovich noted that they didn’t get any data about specific individuals from Facebook—just city-level trends.

“It’s literally just, was Dallas or Houston more positive or more negative on a day,” he said. “The only thing that ever left Facebook’s servers was highly aggregated data on a city- and day-level.”

Additionally, there was also no attempt to sway or manipulate people's emotions, as Facebook has done once before

So enjoy your perfect date, Savannah—your data was safe.

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