Much Worse Than a Bad Monday

Pandemic Mood

A brand new examine led by MIT researchers makes an attempt to measure how the pandemic affected public sentiment by means of an enormous examination of lots of of tens of millions social media posts in about 100 international locations. Credit score: Christine Daniloff, MIT

Examine makes use of social media to measure how a lot sentiment has been affected by the Covid-19 disaster, worldwide.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been miserable, demoralizing, and demanding for individuals world wide. However is there any option to measure precisely how dangerous it has made everybody really feel?

A brand new examine led by MIT researchers attempts just that, through a massive examination of hundreds of millions social media posts in about 100 countries. The research, which analyzes the language terms used in social media, finds a pronounced drop in positive public sentiment after the pandemic set in during early 2020 — with a subsequent, incremental, halting return to prepandemic status.

To put that downturn in perspective, consider a prepandemic fact that the same kind of analysis uncovered: Typically, people express the most upbeat emotions on social media on weekends, and the most negative ones on Monday. Worldwide, the onset of the pandemic induced a negative turn in sentiment 4.7 times as large as the traditional weekend-Monday gap. Thus the early pandemic months were like a really, really bad Monday, on aggregate, globally, for social media users.

“The takeaway here is that the pandemic itself caused a huge emotional toll, four to five times the variation in sentiment observed in a normal week,” says Siqi Zheng, an MIT professor and co-author of a new paper detailing the study’s results.

The paper, “Global evidence of expressed sentiment alterations during the Covid-19 pandemic,” was published on March 17, 2022, in Nature Human Behaviour.

The authors are Jianghao Wang, an associate professor at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Science, in Beijing; Yichun Fan, a PhD candidate in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) and the Sustainable Urbanization Lab (SUL); Juan Palacios, a postdoc at the MIT Center for Real Estate and SUL; Yuchen Chai, a researcher at DUSP and SUL; Nicolas Guetta-Jeanrenaud, a graduate student in the MIT Technology and Policy Program (TPP); Nick Obradovich, a senior research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in the Center for Humans and Machines; Chenghu Zhou; and Zheng, who is the Samuel Tak Lee Champion Professor of Urban and Real Estate Sustainability at MIT and faculty director of the MIT Center for Real Estate and SUL.

To conduct the study, the researchers examined 654 million location-identified social media posts from Twitter in about 100 countries. The posts appeared between Jan. 1, 2020, and May 31, 2020, an early phase of the global pandemic.

The researchers used natural-language processing software to evaluate the content of the social media, and examined the language of pandemic-period posts in relation to historical norms. Having previously studied the effects of pollution, extreme weather, and natural disasters on public sentiment, they found that the pandemic produced bigger changes in mood than those other circumstances.

“The reaction to the pandemic was also three to four times the change in response to extreme temperatures,” Fan observes. “The pandemic shock is even larger than the days when there is a hurricane in a region.”

The biggest drops in sentiment occurred in Australia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Colombia. The countries least affected by the pandemic in these terms were Bahrain, Botswana, Greece, Oman, and Tunisia.

The study also revealed a potentially surprising fact about temporary lockdown policies — namely, that lockdowns did not appear to have much of an effect on the public mood.

“You can’t expect lockdowns to have the same effect on every country, and the distribution of responses is quite wide,” says Fan. “But we found the responses actually largely centered around a very small positive reaction [to lockdowns]. … It’s undoubtedly not the overwhelmingly unfavorable influence on those that is likely to be anticipated.”

As to why individuals might need reacted like this, Zheng says, “On the one hand, lockdown insurance policies would possibly make individuals really feel safe, and never as scared. Then again, in a lockdown if you can’t have social actions, it’s one other emotional stress. The influence of lockdown insurance policies maybe runs in two instructions.”

As a result of many elements would possibly concurrently have an effect on public sentiment throughout a lockdown, the researchers in contrast the temper of nations throughout lockdowns to these with comparable traits that concurrently didn’t enact the identical insurance policies.

The students additionally evaluated patterns of sentiment restoration throughout the early 2020 interval, discovering that some international locations took so long as 29 days to erase half of the dropoff in sentiment they skilled; 18 % of nations didn’t recuperate to their prepandemic sentiment stage.

The brand new paper is a part of the World Sentiment undertaking in Zheng’s Sustainable Urbanization Lab, which research public sentiment as expressed by means of social media, reasonably than public-opinion polling.

“The normal strategy is to make use of surveys to measure well-being or happiness,” Zheng observes. “However a survey has smaller pattern dimension and low frequency. This a real-time measure of individuals’s sentiment.”

Reference: “World proof of expressed sentiment alterations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic” by Jianghao Wang, Yichun Fan, Juan Palacios, Yuchen Chai, Nicolas Guetta-Jeanrenaud, Nick Obradovich, Chenghu Zhou and Siqi Zheng, 17 March 2022, Nature Human Behaviour.
DOI: 10.1038/s41562-022-01312-y

The MIT researchers were supported in part by the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness; support for the other researchers was in part provided by the National Science Foundation of China and the Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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