Twitter predicts heart disease better than doctors

Psychological study also reveals business benefit of Twitter

follow word inside heart cloud blue sky background onlyThe medical profession has a complex way of predicting levels of heart disease. It includes analysis of demographics, socioeconomic data, smoking levels and the weather patterns – all of which influence the likelihood of having a heart attack. But recent research from the University of Pennsylvania shows that Twitter is better than those traditional methods of analysis. Indeed, in the words of the researchers Twitter was “significantly better”.

The study analysed the kind of words used on Twitter and found a strong link between words used in times of stress and the likelihood of heart disease. For years, doctors have realised that stress is probably the most crucial factor in many diseases. Although smoking is one of the most important elements contributing to the physical changes in heart disease, many smokers use the habit to relieve stress. So even smoking is related to stress. Get rid of the stress and the smoking can be eliminated more easily. Yet giving up smoking is itself stressful.

When we are stressed we use different words than when we are relaxed. As a result, Twitter with its millions of words each day is a useful barometer of stress. Anger too, is linked with heart disease and once again Twitter reveals the extent of our anger. It was the levels of anger-related words which was the most significant finding in this study.

Apart from telling us that we should avoid anger and stress, becoming more placid in our lifestyle, this study also reveals something more fundamental. It shows that the volume of data on Twitter is enough to provide significant and dramatic measures of how people are thinking.

That means for anyone in business Twitter is a means of analysing the mood of the market. It can clearly produce enough data to sense what people are thinking and how they are behaving. Collecting data from Twitter and analysing the words used is likely to help you be able to predict market requirements. Indeed, rather like the heart disease study showing that Twitter is better than traditional methods, we may well find that the social network is also greater than traditional market research.

That’s because Twitter represents what people are thinking. It is their instant outpouring of what is on their mind, there and then. It is rarely the carefully considered answers you might give to a market researcher. Equally it is not hampered by the impact of people answering questions on surveys in particular ways to “please” the researchers. Instead, Twitter is largely honest, immediate feelings. As a result the mass of data it provides is clearly valuable.

If you are not using Twitter to analyse the words your customers and potential clients use, you are missing out. And if you miss out too much that will stress you out and you’ll start using words that will help predict the likelihood of your own heart trouble…!

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