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. QuoteCity

    I just want to do God's will.

    June 28, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • QuoteCity

      And he's allowed me to go to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land!

      June 28, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • QuoteCity

      I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.

      June 28, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Sue

      Why would an omnipotent creature need you to do anything?

      June 28, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • QuoteCity


      June 28, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • Neo Atheist.

      You do "Gods" will because you have none of your own.

      June 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • QuoteCity

      How can I have no will of my own?

      June 28, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • QuoteCity



      Tell him he has no will.

      Listen to him about that omnipotent creature.

      June 28, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • Ben

      Better to listen to George tell it like it really is.

      June 28, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • QuoteCity

      "If there is a God may he strike me dead."
      -George Carlin


      June 28, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Here's a shocker for you, QuoteCity. Everybody dies. Even you will die. And despite all your groveling faith, you will still be dead. No heaven, no hell, and eventually no one to remember that you even lived.

      June 28, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Well spoken, tally. Who do you suppose QC "used to be"?

      June 28, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
    • JohnA

      I bet QC changed his name because some resentful and angry-sounding internet atheist kept following him around accusing him of being someone else!

      June 28, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      Well, according to the Bible,. God's will is that you kill anyone near you who isn't Jewish, kill women and children who don't know their place, kill gays and lesbians, kill anyone who eats pork, kill anyone who wears blended fabric, kill anyone who trims their beard....

      June 29, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • sam stone

      vindictive, petty people will find comfort in a vindictive petty god. that explains many of the blog's psuedo christians

      June 29, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  2. Legend

    Atheists are the first ones to attack Christians, and also the first ones to cry and pout. This article isn't saying anything new. These non-scientific mongrels know nothing of the subject they support. 99% of the Atheists pushing their mumbo jumbo online don't even have a degree in Science, Biology or Chemistry. They're a bunch of sloppy jokes that hope other well known scientists will make new discoveries. Get a life, you morons.

    June 28, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • sam

      Goodness. Those grapes are sour. The whole thing's a joke anyway, but it certainly struck a chord with you. Maybe you should go tweet about it.

      June 28, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Legend

      Sorry, I forgot the sarcasm tags around my post.

      June 28, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • Runs With Scissors

      You seem to be the first one crying and pouting...

      June 28, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  3. lol??

    The triunity of the A&A god is Athena, Diana, and Pandora.

    June 28, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  4. ray

    I don't consider the article to relevant, because I don't consider using the pope, Joel Osteen,....and their followers as representing christianity nor do I consider those who espoused and represented atheist according to the article to be true atheist.

    June 28, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      What's a true atheist?

      June 28, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Atheist: One who does not believe that any god exists.

      Pretty simple. I have no idea why some christians have such a hard time with the concept. It really doesn't speak well of their ability to retain knowledge.

      June 28, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  5. Zander

    Interesting analysis!

    Goes on prove that happy people are those that don't let the faulty human reasoning come in the way of their happiness! Happy people reason, think AND believe!

    June 28, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Allen

      Great study and analysis on how words define emotions!

      June 28, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  6. Neo Atheist.

    I am quite happy as an Atheist. Don't need "god" for me to be a good person and to have good self esteem.

    June 28, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • maximo

      Is it because atheists lack reason?

      "More Scientists Endorse Darwin's Doubt: Meet Biologist Mark C. Biedebach" – See more at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/06/more_scientists073871.html

      excerpt of what Biedebach writes:

      Meyer asserts that those who believe neo-Darwinian (or any other conceivable materialistic) processes provide a satisfactory explanation for the existence of life on earth must invariably resort to a metaphysical assertion known as methodological naturalism. This is the view that it is possible to explain all features and events that occur in the natural world by reference to exclusively natural causes. (This has sometimes been called "exclusionary methodological naturalism," because a purposive intelligence, mind, or conscious agency is excluded as a cause.)

      But Meyer argues that to restrict methodological naturalism in such a way renders one blind to the possibility that intelligent design is the best, most causally adequate explanation for the origin of the new information necessary for new cellular network circuitry or a new body plan (whenever previous transitional fossils do not exist).

      Meyer's attack is really against "macroevolution" (large scale population change). Michael Behe (in The Edge of Evolution) points out that there is abundant evidence for "microevolution" (smaller population change), but there is a boundary at which the evidence for microevolution stops and evidence for macroevolution either doesn't exist, or any clues that do exist are beset with problems so serious that explanatory attempts boil down to "just-so-stories." This leaves macroevolution sitting atop a boundary (or wall) with an outlook no better that that of Humpty Dumpty.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • Neo Atheist.

      Macroevolution takes years, generations, even thousands of years to study. The evidence for it is there(Australia, Madagascar, other Remote places of the world where things evolved into slightly different forms). Evolution is seen in micro organisms, which means in small scale, also, proof of concept. If it happens on a micro level then it is very possible it happens on the macro level as well.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Neo Atheist,

      Being happy is an emotional response to stimuli be it physical or psychological. Puff puff, cough! Cough! Damn it! Too big a hit again!

      June 28, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      To make sense of the genetic data, one disbelieving in macro evolution would have to provide a much more convoluted and absurd mechanism. No, we do not have all the pieces of the puzzle when it come to evolution but, if found, the missing pieces would not change the picture from one that shows evolution to something entirely different.

      Evolution is obvious when looking at the data, though it is certainly not intuitive. Naysayers should get their degrees, work with the data, perform experiments and correct and solidify the theory with their work in the field. Simply opining that scientists have reached the wrong conclusion is childish.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Macroevolution (an obscurest word) is what occurs when microevolution has gone on for a very, very long time.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      maxi, Yes atheists lack a reason to believe in your sky-fairy and the creationist pseudo-science that attempts to muddy the water about the real science that disproves the foundation of your religious texts.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • tallulah13


      June 28, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  7. From personal experience

    Thinking on death as permanent is miserable, however accurate it might be.

    June 28, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Science

      No afterlife.

      Is It Alive or Dead? How to Measure the Thermal Signatures of Single Cells and Assess Their Biological Activity

      June 28, 2013 — To the ancients, probing the philosophical question of how to distinguish the living from the dead centered on the "mystery of the vital heat."


      June 28, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • From personal experience


      What about the problem of consciousness? I mean consciousness isn't "heat". A straw perhaps but maybe one worth grasping.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Science

      No horn-y red beast needed.......no heaven either..........but they (meteorites) where hot when they where coming in.

      Life-Producing Phosphorus Carried to Earth by Meteorites

      June 4, 2013 — Scientists may not know for certain whether life exists in outer space, but new research from a team of scientists led by a University of South Florida astrobiologist now shows that one key element that produced life on Earth was carried here on meteorites.


      June 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Not to me. I think it is perfectly natural. I enjoy my life, but when it is over, I will cease to exist. I don't understand why that is bad, but then, I think eternal life sounds boring and unnecessary.

      June 28, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
  8. Vic

    We humans are social beings, having a sense of community and a support system brings about happiness, as well as other factors.

    That's the part I agree on with the following article while confirming that I myself find joy in Faith/Believing in God which brings about happiness:


    Previous post regarding this article:

    June 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Gareth

      Lose the senseless formatting tags already.

      June 28, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Dippy

      Vic, why the hell do you italicize words at random? It makes no sense whatsoever. Are you trying to impress us with your HTML skills?

      June 28, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • Regular reader

      I have the same question for you, Dippy. Why the hell do you audit everybody's grammar, spelling and type font? Are you trying to impress us all with your writing skills?

      June 28, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Regular reader

      Let me add to that, the people who post on here are not on the clock. They are on their own time making no money for posting. It's an anonymous blog, it's a free for all. If you want to edit, why not get a job with CNN?

      June 28, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • L.E.A.P.

      Touché Reader spell, grammar, and syntax checking is getting to be a prosaic practice on this blog

      June 28, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  9. rokchok

    Well, ignorance is bliss. And Christians are VERY blissful.

    June 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Name*Huegasgirl

      It's the fool who says in his heart there is no God

      June 28, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Neo Atheist.

      Its the fool who says "It's the fool who says in his heart there is no God"

      June 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Ah someone who can read a buybull. There is no evidence outside of the buybull to support the christards god, so anyone intelligent enough to realize this is not so worried and understands it is the one who is gullible enough to accept that god that is the fool.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Be A Lert

      Hey folks,

      It's a Poe/Troll - say, "Huegasgirl" out loud.

      (hint: start with Huge)

      June 28, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • rick

      "It's the fool who says in his heart there is no God"

      No, the fools are the ones who feel they speak for god

      June 29, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  10. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


    I agree.


    June 28, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  11. Robert

    These Twitter studies don't mean anything. Christians are always proselytizing on the Internet and boasting about how happy God makes them. It's what they're trained to do, especially the evangelicals. It has nothing to do with a true, deep sense of happiness. I'm an atheist and I'm a very happy person, except when I have to listen to BS from Christians.

    June 28, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I don't know. I would like to see a similar study done with people in very oppressive cults with very restrictive regimens. I bet those people would score even higher. If you think that some big invisible sky wizard is going to eventually make everything good with a few more magic spells, then you probably have a tendency to ignore some of the difficulties of life. Atheists probably ponder the tough questions a little more and skeptically analyze their options because they don't ignore those things for the reason that the believers do. In the scenario I describe, the atheist is making better decisions for better reasons but would show up on a poll as being "less happy" than the Christian who is refusing to acknowledge areas of his life that need fixing.

      June 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio


      Some place like North Korea. I'm sure a very happy result would turn up.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • fred

      cpt. Obvious
      " the Christian who is refusing to acknowledge areas of his life that need fixing"
      =>What? The Bible spends hundreds of verses saying we need fixing! The Bible says we need saving from our broken nature. Then it goes on and on about ways to fix it.

      =>it is the atheist that says he is without sin thus has no need for salvation.. I it is the atheist that sees only darkness or non life outside of their current desires which is why they are unhappy.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious


      Yes, in the case of character flaws, it's much easier for a Christian to claim that god made them that way to serve a particular purpose in the body of Christ or that god will forgive their sins. So, a Christian who makes a mistake may continue in bliss whereas an atheist would seriously reconsider his character. (not that this is always the case)

      June 28, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • Dippy

      Fred, you're being presumptive, as always.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • fred

      I cannot speak for others but we hold members accountable for character flaws that do not bring glory to God. There is actually a turning point where a Christian no longer has that character flaw and is forever thankful to Gods grace. I don't know if atheists have more or less flaws than Christians. We have the model of Christ as a goal so our flaws or variance from good is easy to see and measure. What do atheists use as a guage?

      June 28, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • Science

      In other words Freddie your are wacky !

      Strong religious convictions are no excuse for misrepresenting research

      The faithful can live how they choose, but not dictate to others


      June 28, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • fred

      So, who can dictate anything to another?

      June 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious


      Christians and atheists are individuals, and we are both generalizing, perhaps a bit too much. I believe that many Christians are not as critical of themselves and their choices as many atheists are because of the personal accountability vs. forgiveness dynamic.

      June 28, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • fred

      You may have a point as even the Apostle Paul felt compelled to comment when believers in his day thought forgiveness allowed for more sin:
      "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? God forbid."

      June 28, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • Science

      Hey Freddie

      Money and water.

      June 28, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • rick

      It is the christard who feel that they were born "sinful" and feel they must grovel before their god lest they be punished for eternity

      June 29, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  12. ME II

    In addition to other methodological issues with this "study", it seems that the researchers are assuming that the followers of, say the Pope or Hitchens, are actually believers or non-believers, respectively. Don't people frequently 'follow' the "opposition"?

    June 28, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      This study made me wonder how many tweets has Christopher Hitchens made in the last couple of years?

      June 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
  13. Tyler

    So the sample size of twitter accounts was n=10? Lol. And of course if you've got Joel Osteen in a study those data points are going to be absurd outliers. Or should I say outliars?

    Also, what about the notion of an analytical theist? This assertion seems to draw a false dichotomy or partial dichotomy: "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."

    Don't get me wrong: I'm both a Christian and I believe it's good, all other things being equal, to be happy. But this article and study seems highly problematic in many respects.

    June 28, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • ME II

      "So the sample size of twitter accounts was n=10?"

      FYI, No, those were the accounts followed, from which the sample of followers was taken.

      June 28, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • ME II

      "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 "

      June 28, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      From the study (and p1 here)

      "The final sample thus included the 7,557 Christian followers (877,537 tweets) and 8,716 Atheist followers (1,039,812 tweets) that self-reported English as their language and had at least 20 tweets in their timeline. Thirteen followers that met all of these criteria were following both a Christian and an Atheist public figure in our sample, and were excluded from the final analysis."

      June 28, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I am interested in the thirteen people who were following both Christians and atheists. I wonder what their "score" was on the diction table....

      June 28, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  14. lionlylamb

    Boston to LA,

    Mankind's desiring to alleviate our body's inabilities to fight off physical malignancies due genetic algorithms gone awry is a worthy notation.

    June 28, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • bostontola

      Thanks ll, you just made me happy.

      June 28, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Boston to LA,

      Keep us all abreast of new scientific undertakings ! :mrgreen:

      June 28, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  15. d0case

    Uh...of course we Christians tweet words of hope, love, joy, life, peace, and grace.
    It's what we've been given at no cost to us!

    Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly."

    June 28, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • Gareth

      Explain to me why Jesus was necessary.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Name*Huegasgirl

      To give you life & peace. Life that will make you a lot happier than you are now.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • Neo Atheist.

      I am A LOT happier without Jesus and his teachings. Jesus and the Bible have no place in my life, nor the lives of my children.

      June 28, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • kjlkj

      What if one of your children wants to be a Christian?

      June 28, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • Neo Atheist.

      That's their choice then. But if I raise them right, they won't want to be nor have any part of religion. If anyone tries to convert them, take them to church, try to get them baptized, they will then have to deal with me. Religious brain washing begins at an early age, and I will try and shelter them from it as much as possible. I will not discuss the topic until they are older.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
  16. Brendan Corrigan

    "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."

    Well plenty of problems arise when we let emotions guide our thoughts and actions. As for 'certainty' – what certainty?!

    But sure as long as we're happy – some of us just don't need to outwardly express it... http://bit.ly/OPvJBC

    June 28, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Many times when we use intuition (our gut), our brains are simply processing information in a manner that we can't put into words. For instance, a person's brain might process micro expressions without the individual even realizing he is doing that or even what micro expressions are. Intuition involves more logic than we think.

      June 28, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  17. bostontola

    This makes me happy: Microglia cells migrate into tumors and supply cancer cells with a substance needed for the repair of DNA damage. Blocking this resistance mechanism might lead to more effective treatments for malignant brain cancer.

    Thanks science.

    June 28, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  18. bostontola

    This makes me happy: Dendritic Cell Therapy Improves Kidney Transplant Survival.

    Thanks science.

    June 28, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  19. bostontola

    This makes me happy: Scientists using sophisticated imaging techniques have observed a molecular protein folding process that may help medical researchers understand and treat diseases such as Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's and cancer.

    Thanks science.

    June 28, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @bostontola –

      When science develops antidepressants that actually work...EVERYONE will be happy. 🙂


      June 28, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • bostontola

      I couldn't agree more. They are working on understanding the causes and finding better treatments. I'm confident that a rigorous scientific method will yield the results you crave.

      June 28, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Antigone

      Any anti-depressants that are petroleum based canNOT be good for the brain...just saying.

      June 28, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Dippy

      Why not?

      June 28, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  20. bostontola

    This makes me happy: Research on ribosomes by Noller and others has led to the development of novel antibiotics that hold promise for use against drug-resistant bacteria.

    Thanks science.

    June 28, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
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