home
RSS
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)
  1. Happy Atheist

    I don't tweet and I don't own a cell phone. I am the happiest 🙂

    June 28, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Lucifer's Evl Twin

      No cell phone? Who are you, Fred Flintstone?

      June 28, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Happy Atheist

      Fred was wound a bit tight, but I have no doubt he was an atheist. I'm more of a Barney Rubble 🙂

      June 28, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Lucifer's Evl Twin

      He had to be the patsy... but I liked Barney too. Fred was an idiot and Barney was reasonably intelligent... by deduction, I would therefore pick Fred as the christian.

      June 28, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Happy Atheist

      Well I guess they both believed man and dinosaurs were concurrent... T-Rex riding Adam away!!

      June 28, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  2. AverageJoe76

    I see how people can see me as unhappy at times. But it's simply based on the lonely feeling I get in the sea of the blissfully ignorant. Don't get me wrong, I'm ignorant of many things. But I don't pretend to know what the creator of reality wants. I haven't had a chat with 'it'. Nor am I inclined to believe 'it' left instructions.

    June 28, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  3. Russell

    According to the article, atheists use the words “think,” “reason” and “question” and that makes them less happy than people who don't.
    It shouldn't take a PHD to reach a conclusion that ignorance really is bliss for some people, aka christians.

    I prefer the truth and reality. It makes me happier.

    June 28, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • AverageJoe76

      Even if the truth made me unhappy, it gives me a solid platform to find 'true happiness' based on truth.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • Mike

      Why was 6 afraid of 7?

      July 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
  4. Wasn't

    Wasn't Hitler a christian? I imagine he was pretty happy too?

    June 28, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • derp

      Godwins law, derp

      June 28, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Dan

      Right up till he was self raptured...

      June 28, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Do you

      Do you suppose Hitler is in heaven because he believed in John 3:16?

      June 28, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Mike

      No he was a friend of Rabid aithiest George Bernard Shaw

      http://www.crichton-official.com/essay-stateoffear-whypoliticizedscienceisdangerous.html

      I missed that sermon in Church? If the famous people you aithiests look up to like Bill Maher haven't gotten to it yet, I'm not surprised. It's not time yet. But they will.

      Funny all these years that glowing box has taught the young and old everything was fine till Jesus came along and Religion has caused all this war and murder. Turns out you just need a few egomaniacal socialists who think they are better than others! Hey that's you guys! Your gonna be famous!

      July 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • Observer

      Mike,

      First of all, Bil Maher is an agnostic.

      Almost all of the conflicts in the world today are about religion.

      It wasn't any atheist that killed all but 8 people on the face of the earth. The Bible says it was God.

      July 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Hitler was a Catholic. Presuming his faith was genuine (a pretty large presumption, knowing his mental diagnosis), he'll have some temporal remissions to acquire before his ultimate destination is acquired.

      July 8, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • e-man

      George W Bush is a Christian, too. Look what happened to the world under his regime. He's as bad as Hitler. Possibly worse since he's truly more ignorant. At least Hitler was a genius. Evil genius. But he was smart at least.

      July 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  5. Vic

    Keep in mind that this study suggests that Christians seem to be happier than Atheists based on online/cyber expressions! From my own experience online, that seems to be true!

    Although I have noticed extremism by some Christians online, it is more prevalent on the Atheists' side.

    Now, in real life, people's expressions and/or intensity of might match or differ from their online/cyber counterparts! We don't know!

    Here is what I believe is a general rule: It all depends on the right balance, anything, that is! You can't be happy if you are too strict or too loose.

    Last but not least, I beg to differ with the study on one count; I believe that all humans are analytical and use their heads & hearts on average. The difference in the case of the believer is that using one's head is guided by Faith in God!

    June 28, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • midwest rail

      " Although I have noticed extremism by some Christians online, it is more prevalent on the Atheists' side. "
      Selective reading will do that for you.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Teams of scientists across the world work to better the lives of my family and friends. Scientific discovery helps humans live happier lives.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • Science

      Hi chavic ................Rachel must be happy as hell you took on a new partner ?

      June 28, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Science

      Hey chavic...............you know fred .............was he a happy christian the other say .

      June 28, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Science

      Oops ...day.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  6. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Ignorance is bliss.

    June 28, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Saraswati

      1. Being part of the majority and looking down on others is bliss
      2. Being so ignorant of what atheism means that your study picks what are possibly the world's least happy atheists and uses them as your sample exaggerates any existing differences

      June 28, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • AverageJoe76

      @ I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV – That was the 1st thing to pop in my mind.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  7. My Dog is a jealous Dog

    Who are the happiest people I have ever met – easy answer – individuals with Down's Syndrome.

    June 28, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Or

      People who kick dogs when they crap on their lawns are pretty happy too.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  8. New study

    A new study reveals that atheists are the happiest when they 'ridicule'.

    Their Analytical thought and reasoning when translated to 'ridicule' increases their serotonin levels.

    June 28, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • Saraswati

      Did writing that attempt to ridicule atheists raise your serotonin levels?

      June 28, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Observer

      If after careful thought and reasoning you can come up with positive words such as “bad,” “wrong,” and “awful", it says a lot about your reasoning skills!

      June 28, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Lucifer's Evl Twin

      Your so witty...

      June 28, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Lucifer's Evl Twin

      It's less funny now that I have to correct myself... 'you're'

      June 28, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • New study

      @Observer.

      Nothing wrong with "bad", "awful", "wrong". If those words are commonly used then it is a clear indication of ones mental health.

      June 28, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      What a charming post.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      @New study
      you're right to consider yourself a wit, unfortunately you're only half right

      June 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  9. Ken

    Of course we are happier. We have hope in the eternal.

    June 28, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • You

      You can't go to heaven because you're gay.

      June 28, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • Ken

      Are you speaking of yourself in the third person?

      June 28, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • You

      I was replying to You so the reply was not in the "third" person.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Ken

      Ok, well if you're referring to the alternative definition that I am exuberant and happy, then yes. Ken is very gay.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  10. ME II

    By the way, the bubble chart on p23 of the study is quite interesting... (http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/pramlab/Papers/Ritter_Preston_Hernandez_SPPS.pdf, hat tip to @Saraswati)
    Believers "know" and "feel" and atheists "think" and "reason"

    I'm guessing there is a correlation between certainty and self-described happimess, regardless of the accuracy of that certainty.

    June 28, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The whole study (and the bubble chart) is predicated on the LIWC dictionary:

      http://www.liwc.net/howliwcworks.php

      " Over the last three decades, researchers have provided evidence to suggest that people's physical and mental health can be predicted by the words they use.

      In order to provide an efficient and effective method for studying the various emotional, cognitive, structural, and process components present in individuals' verbal and written speech samples, we developed a text analysis application called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, or LIWC."

      Is this legitimate psychology? Who knows. The concept is interesting but it seems more to reaffirm the self-evident.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • ME II

      @...not a GOPer...,
      Agreed.
      In addition, as I think has been mentioned already, the whole basis of taking a sample of twitter followers of 10 celebrities is a great example of selection bias.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @ME II

      did you look at the Bubble chart in detail?

      The way I interpret the bubble for "know" – it was used 211 times by "Christians" and 198 times by "atheists" per 100,000 words. A difference of 13 times per 100,000 words might be the biggest absolute number difference but it is only a 6% swing.

      The more you look into this analysis, the dodgier it gets.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • ME II

      @I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV,
      No, I hadn't looked at it in that much detail, but after a second look, your numbers seem correct, although I'm not sure whether the differences are significant or insignificant. I'd agree that they seem less impressive than I expected.

      "The more you look into this analysis, the dodgier it gets."
      Agreed. While I don't know that their conclusion is wrong, per se, but the methodology does seem flawed.

      June 28, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Besides reaffirming that atheists trend to skeptical and Christians trend to oblivious I'm not sure what this survey really says.

      Though they have put a lot of energy into trying to drive a conclusion, the methodology seems like a stretch to me.

      June 28, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      In their abstract, the researchers say:

      "Analyses reveal that Christians use more positive emotion words and less negative emotion words than Atheists. Moreover, two independent paths predict differences in expressions of happiness: frequency of words related to an intuitive (vs. analytic) thinking style, and frequency of words related to social relationships."

      Perhaps the conclusion of this study should be that people invent religion to create a social network that makes them feel better about themselves?

      June 28, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  11. L.E.A.P.

    Yep the bible has a comment or two about middle ground, "Luke warm" approach...

    June 28, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Indeed it does. It's one of the verses that show how much of an azzhole god is.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  12. Agnostickids

    As usual, christians need to divide everything into black and white, good and evil, etc. What about the middle ground? Agnostics are relatively happy. I'm speaking for myself, but most of my friends shuttle around in the same sphere of thought and belief. Most of them are happy with life. I mean, realistically, it's not a happy time to be alive on the earth with so much suffering, but I really don't think a study used to see if christians or atheists are happier can shed any light on reality. It's just silly. Really.

    June 28, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • lol??

      The middle ground is purgatory, the left behind, possibly He11 but not a place of contentment.

      "Rev 3:16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."

      June 28, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  13. IslandAtheist

    I'd rather be right.

    June 28, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Yep. And, I would say that happiness can't be determined by such a measure as diction. I know people who "seem" unhappy because of their convictions and personality, but they really are very happy; and conversely, I know people who "seem" happy to most people, but they really aren't when you get to know them.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  14. Aren't

    Aren't most KKK members christians??? I'll bet they're really happy when wearing those hoods!!!

    June 28, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The KKK, The Aryan Nations, Aryan Repuglican Army, Phineas Preisthood, The Covenant The Sword and The Arm of the Lord, the Manmasi National Christian Army, The National Liberation Front of Tripura –
      There's a whole host of Christian terrorist groups.

      June 28, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  15. L.E.A.P.

    I would have to agree, though we are not perfect never claim to be, the big questions are answered. Day to day struggles we all have them, but the anger displayed on this blog makes me wonder, are " A Theists "really at peace with their beliefs? Just wondering?

    June 28, 2013 at 10:23 am |
  16. Roger that

    Not happy? Maybe this will cheer you up.

    http://youtu.be/j8ZF_R_j0OY

    June 28, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Lucifer's Evl Twin

      That was the funniest damn video i've seen in a long time. LOL.

      June 28, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Thoth

      Now that was flipp'n funny!

      June 28, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • JMEF

      Bill Deacon, must watch for you. Hilarious.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:34 am |
    • Science

      Shout out for doogie and chavic to watch too !

      June 28, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  17. Great article!

    How do you quantify ‘analytical thinking’?”

    –By the outcomes!

    June 28, 2013 at 10:07 am |
  18. I'm Happy

    Because I don't even know what facebook or twitter is.

    June 28, 2013 at 10:05 am |
  19. lol??

    Yer tweets provide solid employment for yer servants at the NSA. They live a happy life and say thanks.

    June 28, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  20. Happiness

    Help Yourself to Happiness

    Everybody, everywhere seeks happiness, it's true,
    But finding it and keeping it seem difficult to do.
    Difficult because we think that happiness is found
    Only in the places where wealth and fame abound.
    And so we go on searching in palaces of pleasure
    Seeking recognition and monetary treasure,
    Unaware that happiness is just a state of mind
    Within the reach of everyone who takes time to be kind.
    For in making others happy we will be happy, too.
    For the happiness you give away returns to shine on you.
    ~ H S Rice

    Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over. Luke 6:38

    June 28, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • Lucifer's Evl Twin

      Not bad... of course empty-headed sunshine flying out of your ass drivel is not for everyone...

      June 28, 2013 at 10:24 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.