Christians happier than atheists – on Twitter
In 140 characters or less, Christians seem to be spreading love and joy more than atheists.
June 28th, 2013
08:02 AM ET

Christians happier than atheists – on Twitter

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='JRavitzCNN']

(CNN) - Christians tweet from the heart, atheists from the head, according to a new study.

The study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tapped Twitter as a research tool and compared the messages of Christians and atheists.

The conclusion: When they are limited to 140 characters or less, these researchers say, believers are happier than their counterparts.

Two doctoral students in social psychology and an adviser analyzed the casual language of nearly 2 million tweets from more than 16,000 active users to come up with their findings, which were published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The team identified subjects by finding Twitter users who followed the feeds of five prominent public figures. In the case of Christians, those select five were Pope Benedict XVI, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, conservative political commentator Dinesh D’Souza and Joyce Meyer, an evangelical author and speaker.

In the case of atheists, the five followed feeds included Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Monica Salcedo and Michael Shermer - the latter two respectively being a self-described “fiercely outspoken atheist” blogger, and a science writer who founded The Skeptics Society.

With the help of a text analysis program, the researchers found that Christians tweet with higher frequency words reflecting positive emotions, social relationships and an intuitive style of thinking – the sort that’s gut-driven.

This isn’t to say that atheists don’t use these words, too, but they out-tweet Christians when it comes to analytic words and words associated with negative emotions.

Christians, they found, are more likely to use words like “love,” “happy” and “great”; “family,” “friend” and “team.”

Atheists win when it comes to using words like “bad,” “wrong,” and “awful” or “think,” “reason” and “question,” said Ryan Ritter, one of the students behind the study.

While not perfect – for example, this sort of word examination can’t account for sarcasm – word choices, Ritter and his colleagues argue, reflect something about a person’s mindset.

An analytical thinker (atheist) is more likely to be skeptical or critical, for example, whereas an intuitive thinker (Christian) is guided by emotion and certainty.

Based on previous studies cited by these researchers, analytical thinking may "diminish the capacity for optimism and positive self-illusions that typify good mental health."

Likewise, mentions of social connections, which they say are often provided in a “tight-knit moral community,” suggest stronger relationships among Christian tweeters and are, they add, often an indicator of happiness.

The takeaway, Ritter wrote in an e-mail, is “not that religion is associated with more happiness, per se, but why?”

“If we can understand the factors that facilitate happiness (e.g., increased social support), ideally we can use these insights to increase well-being for believers and nonbelievers alike,” Ritter said.

But the Twitter study doesn’t fly with everyone.

After reading an article about the study on Pacific Standard magazine’s website, Richard Wade, an advice columnist for the blog Friendly Atheist, called it “useless and misleading” and based on “sloppy research.”

He wrote, “The take away for most lay people is ‘Atheists are unhappy people.’ … How do you quantify ‘happiness’? How do you quantify ‘analytical thinking’?”

“Even in their acknowledgments about the possible biases in their study, the authors still use absurd and meaningless terms like ‘militant atheist,’” he added. “This study suffers from the same negative stereotypes about atheists that most of society has, and it has simply reinforced that prejudice with more muddled thinking.”

Ritter, who happens to describe himself as a happy atheist, said in hindsight he wishes they hadn’t used the word “militant” and that no ill will was intended. They simply wanted to describe those who have “extremely negative attitudes” when it comes to religion.

“I am a friend of the atheists! My response to Richard would be that he should apply the ‘principle of charity’ when interpreting other’s research (i.e., that it’s possible we’re NOT incompetent,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“This is not an assumption; this is the pattern we observed in the data.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • Technology

soundoff (1,317 Responses)
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    December 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  3. hearties

    If you ever want to fall in love more than you ever thought possible, fall in love with God. You won't regret it. Jesus showed you how much he loves you, willing to die for you, to take on unspeakable pain and suffering, for you. God can dwell within you, love that close, within you. Read the New Testament, it's all there, those are real men telling you the truth, and dying while telling it.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:52 am |
    • Nick

      Jesus was sent on a suicide mission as a form of God on earth. He may not have been willing to die, but God made sure to send him on that path

      January 6, 2014 at 8:30 pm |
  4. hearties

    It is not rocket science people. They demanded nothing and got nothing, so naturally they are unhappy and disappointed with that they got. Especially when they realize others got the best there ever was, is, or will be over all eternity: God. We get to love Jesus Christ of Nazareth (he saves us), the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, and God the Father putting together the entire universe, everything out there, and here too. There is no comparison, and they know it. They're not happy... but we are happy, very much so.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:48 am |
    • Nick

      Do you ever post something not completely based on faith? I've had many discussions on the topic of faith and the point is: faith is the bridge people try and make to cross the expanse between truth and logic. Logic will take you so far, and once you reach that point you should stop. Faith enables you to go too far and believe something that is complete nonsense.
      Do you mean to tell me that in all the universe, in ALL of eternity (try and grasp that) there is nothing better than a god who claims to be all powerful, yet if she were as perfect as is possible, why not make everything wonderful with no tragedies?

      January 6, 2014 at 8:28 pm |
  5. Rio Lee

    Christians please don't argue, remember this Bible verse:

    Proverbs 23:9
    Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words.

    December 2, 2013 at 7:05 am |
    • kagehi

      Ah, yes, a quote for everything... Seem to remember some bit in there about how books and knowledge are all bad, so you should just go around believing what the priests tell you instead, but its not like I read the thing... lol

      Seriously though, I am bloody surprised I haven't seen the silly "Hitler was an atheist", in complete denial of his ex-alter boy, and wacko cult semi-Catholic, semi-occult, semi-anything sort of magic that he thought might help him, real beliefs, or the bloody silly assertion that you can discount hundreds of millions of people doing lots of horrible things to each other, even if many of them where not always murder (there are worse things to do to people than killing them, like torture, brainwashing, or slavery), compared to a few crazy megalomaniacs, who concluded that gods and priests stood in the way of their own supposed glory. Though.. ironically, Stalin, in the end, despite being one of those megalomaniacs, granted the Russian Orthodox Church the right to continue, since he needed them as an ally, to get what he wanted.

      But, when you get your history out of a combination of McCarthy era text books, which where all written from the stance of fear and paranoia, and a book of mythology.. its hardly a big surprise.

      But, honestly, what have non-believers, or non-Christians, have to be happy about, in some cases? Some areas you can't go two miles without seeing 4-5 billboards from some bunch of "Christians" declaring normal human activities as evil, telling you that you will go to hell if you do, and/or declaring that you are unmitigatedly evil, if you don't believe in their particular god. A non-believer tries to put up a sign that says nothing more controversial than, "There are people out that that don't commit horrible acts of evil, and happen to not believe either.", i.e., "Its possible to be good without god.", and even the many of the "nice" Christians start calling for a bloody war, because "persecution!".

      As has been often quoted from Steven Weinberg, "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

      Sometimes that religion is something really silly, like the belief in the absolute righteousness and truth, of the words of one man, like a powerful leader. When you take such things on faith... you have already lost perspective, and you **will** inevitably hurt someone, in the name of them. You might even hurt millions, or billions (and its just plain dumb luck, as you can see from the war mongering and stupidity of "religious" political leaders, like McCain, et al, who have said it would be a dandy idea to nuke Iran, that the body count has been higher due to people with lots of weapons, and countries full of people, who where duped into following insane people, because they where tired of the failure of priests to make the world better.)

      Call me a fool all you want. But, I despise war. Can you say the same about almost everyone on your side? And, that is just the worst of the things I find offensive, which the "godly" keep demanding of the rest of us.

      December 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Nick

      Your own words aren't even prudent, you're calling people fools

      January 6, 2014 at 8:31 pm |
  6. hearties

    It would be great if all articles were like this one, where people can talk about loving Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father. But then that would be heaven, not CNN.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:28 am |
  7. hearties

    I can imagine the prophets had a very deep love for God in that they were willing to face incredible dangers, and in some instances go to their deaths to help others find and believe him. Jesus is the best example of this, because he not only did it for God the Father, but for all of us too, in dying for our sins. It is no wonder why believers are happier.

    November 24, 2013 at 4:10 am |
  8. hearties

    Jesus poured out his heart for us, that is real love, and that is why we're happy.

    November 16, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • hearties

      We can also love the Holy Spirit, and God the Father as well. There is no question about why we are happy. All this from Jesus and him telling us about it. He is the best.

      November 19, 2013 at 1:34 am |
      • kagehi

        Snort.. I have no idea who the two of your are trying to convince, but at least you are giving me, and every other non-christian, a good laugh.

        November 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
        • Victoria

          Those "two" have the same name.

          November 26, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
        • kagehi

          Replied through an email link, so.. wasn't really paying any attention to names. But, still. Its nothing I haven't seen, sometimes from people unhinged enough to, well.. there was the one that spent 3 pages telling a blogger that he would burn in hell for something that was the exact opposite of what he said, to which was appended, almost verbatim, the same assertion about Jesus, and a happy "God bless you," Seems, the more unhinged, the more likely the person will end their rant with, "Have a nice day.", "Hope you are well.", "God bless you.", "Jesus loves you." (remember, this is just after spending 3 pages describing how Jesus was going to throw them in a fiery pit...), etc.

          I would almost be willing to hypothesize that, rather like the use of "family" or "values" in an organization name designating someone with no true interest in the former, and a near total lack of the later, that the inability to use bad words, and make seemingly "unhappy" comments is not so much a sign of happiness, per say, as... well.. There is a line from Terry Pratchett's book Wyrd Sisters that comes to mind, 'He had a mind like a clock, and like that clock it regularly went "cuckoo".'

          November 27, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
        • hearties

          When someone loves someone else, there will be others that don't understand it, and they can even be repulsed or angered by it. Given this, it is not surpizing to see data in the article showing believers are happier, when both sides are affected by the one side's love of God. This clock works fine.

          November 30, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
  9. Lamb of Dog

    This study is irrelevant. It can not be considered scientific because the people conducting the study decided on using only 5 people to base their results on.
    Had they randomly selected 100 atheist and 100 believers it might stand a chance of being scientific.
    What is a real shame is that some magazine wasted time printing this rubbish.

    October 27, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • Nick

      If you read closely, you'll notice something that says the followers of those prominent figures were chosen, not the figures themselves. I'm sure it's not the magazine posting rubbish LoD, check your post.

      January 6, 2014 at 8:23 pm |
  10. MyungHee

    Way to brainwash the public into believing Atheist is bad because you will be unhappy because 5 people claiming to be Atheist say so out of 5 million just in the USA. Wow, perfect research. *fake clap* I didn't know question and reason was a curse word.

    October 27, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  11. highplainsparson

    Christianity is true and atheism is false. Debate me now on the highplainsparson blog.

    October 18, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • CopsBlow247

      What a pathetic attempt to get attention and get hits on your blog. If you don't agree you can tell me at sucktheleftoneitssalty.Foff.

      October 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
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