Tweets may show why Christians are happier than atheists (spoiler: more friends, less thinking)

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happy_sad_face_smileyLet’s say you tweet about this blog post — what would your tweet reveal about you? Can a tweet reveal not only what you’re thinking but HOW you think?

University of Illinois professor Jesse Preston and her graduate students Ryan Ritter and Ivan Hernandez believe so.

They analyzed more than two million tweets from 16,000 twitter users to examine how Christians and atheists communicate. The research was published last year in Social Psychological & Personality Science.

Their data showed that Christians are happier than atheists — more positive words, less negative words. That wasn’t much of a surprise. Religious people of all stripes are more likely to say that they are happy than those with no religion.

Tweets, however, can help reveal why religious people are happier. The tweets show that the Christians were more socially connected (using words like “friend”). Atheists were more analytical (“think” or “because…”). These differences helped explain some of the differences in happiness.

“Religious communities are very social. Just being a member of a religious group connects people to others, and it may be this social connection that can make people happier,” Preston said. “On the other hand, atheists had a more analytical thinking style in their tweets than Christians, which at extremes can make people less happy.”

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