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. Austin

    Would you allow the Holy Spirit, if He was real, to give you a real faith?

    June 30, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I'm open to whatever your Holy Spirit can do, Austin. Let me know when it's ready.

      June 30, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • sam stone

      Austin: "Faith" is delusion. You exemplify this very well

      July 1, 2013 at 7:43 am |
    • Rory

      Once you allow for there to be a HS out there, then aren't you just opening yourself up to confirmation bias?

      July 1, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • fintastic

      Belief in ghosts is delusional

      July 1, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  2. Austin

    oh wow, i cant change my handle? whats with the new parameters?

    June 30, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • Austin

      ahhh. just teasing ya now. Hows it going? nice night a?

      June 30, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Austin

      What are you interested in? Austin
      Would you allow the Holy Spirit, if He was real, to give you a real faith?

      June 30, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
    • Austin

      Jesus loves you.

      And He can do what I am talking about.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • Austin

      well everyone needs a crutch. and im not talking about me. Thats what you are doing. Im not the one who is going to give you the faith supernaturally.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • Austin

      well, I would think that unless you were given supernatural faith that you would think it was a miserable trick.

      There is more to it than the weight of doubt. The Glory of God, is the incredible spiritual life that will light you up, and you will know what awaits you. its too much for your flesh to contemplate , you need help for the Helper.

      John 15:26-27
      New International Version (NIV)
      The Work of the Holy Spirit

      26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • Austin

      Tom, I stand on the Word of God. That is Jesus Christ , promising the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit will testify of the truth.

      Seek this promise! This is real. This will have tears falling and you will praise God , because He will allow you to. He will give you faith.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
    • Austin

      Hey Tom, pick a time and blog and I will check in with possible supernatural information. This is nothing new to me.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
    • Ernest T Bass

      @Austin..... "I stand on the Word of God."

      You stand on your imagination...... it's such a shame that you confuse mythology with reality.

      July 2, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  3. Austin

    whats going on with the editor?

    June 30, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  4. evolvedDNA

    Light.. do you not think it strange that nothing in the bible that was not known to the folks in the middle east was in the bible? where are references to, say, polar bears, penguins, kangaroos..duck billed platypuses ..tube worms ... if god .. which ever one, yours or the previous models had wanted to impress the world a description and location of where they could be found would have gone a long way to fill the god credibility gap that is getting larger by the day.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • evolvedDNA

      opps should have been way down on the page.. the gods must be angry...

      June 30, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
  5. The real Tom

    My posts are being censored, so if you think I work for CNN, you're daft.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • The real Tom

      I don't know. Are they?

      June 30, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • Akira

      I have tried to set lionlylamb straight, Tom. The idea that you are a moderator is ludicrous.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • The real Tom

      😉 And water is wet. There is no possibility of "setting LL straight."

      June 30, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
  6. Anon

    Well it is kinda depressing being surrounded by many delusional Christians, don't ya think?

    June 30, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Very. If they'd only keep their delusions to themselves, it would be dandy. But no, they are so OCD they feel compelled to push them on everyone else.

      June 30, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
    • Austin

      ot really tom. Supernatural gifts and revelation are something to boast about. and simply to inform you to help you to open up the next sense, called the spirit. open up to the Holy Spirit. Press in. Close your eyes. listen.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
    • Austin

      Hey , just pleading with you to pray for the spirit. Let Him give you faith. If that could happen , would you let Him?

      June 30, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • Austin

      Would you allow the Holy Spirit, if He was real, to give you a real faith?

      June 30, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
    • Austin

      OK, Tom,fine, I have to assume then that God can give me a dream about something in your life? That you will experience or have?

      June 30, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • The real Tom

      You can assume whatever you like. You'll lie about it regardless, just as you have about everything you've posted here since you showed up.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • Austin

      I havent lied about anything. and my savior can reach your heart.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Translation of Austin's post: "I have lied about everything."

      End of story.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • Austin

      Tom, I am going to spend time on your behalf every day asking for what you need to know what I know. I received something special. Its real.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • Austin

      that funny silly.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
  7. HarryGP

    A big cool thank you to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for making the universe and sending Jesus Christ of Nazareth to die for our sins if we repent and believe him. Also thank you for making air conditioning and fans possible.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • The real Tom

      This is a hoot. HarryGP talking about "cool."

      June 30, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
    • HarryGP

      It was a thank you to God. He does so much, things most people don't realize, consider or comprehend.

      June 30, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
    • fintastic

      Including illiteracy

      July 1, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  8. Bob

    Proverbs 16:20 Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.

    June 30, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • fintastic

      "I don't know who Maxime thinks she's kidding. If Hagrid's half-giant, she definitely is. Big bones... the only thing that's got bigger bones than her is a dinosaur."

      Harry Potter

      July 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  9. Bob

    Matthew 5:9 – Blessed [are] the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

    June 30, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • fintastic

      "Pity you can't attach an extra arm to yours [broom], Malfoy. Then it could catch the Snitch for you."

      Harry Potter

      July 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  10. Bob

    Philippians 4:7 – And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

    June 30, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • fintastic

      "Are you insane? Of course I want to leave the Dursleys! Have you got a house? When can I move in?"

      Harry Potter

      July 1, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  11. Bob

    Philippians 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord alway: [and] again I say, Rejoice

    June 30, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • fintastic

      "Voldemort uses people his enemies are close to. He's already used you as bait once, and that was just because you're my best friend's sister. Think how much danger you'll be in if we keep this up. He'll know, he'll find out. He'll try and get to me through you."

      Harry Potter

      July 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  12. Jon

    We need to show mercy. I mean, because as much mercy as you show people, that's the mercy you're going to be receiving.

    June 30, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Since my posts are being blocked, please note that it's very unlikely that I'm working for CNN.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Since my posts are being blocked, please note that it's extremely unlikely that I'm working for CNN.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    June 30, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Really?

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      That's why it's been proven that atheists have happier and healthier lives than conservative Christians. Your post is built on a lie!

      July 1, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • Ernest T Bass

      Christians are masters at lying.

      July 2, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  14. light

    He has let free the two seas meeting together. (55:19)
    Between them there is a barrier which they do not transgress. (55:20)

    A famous French oceanographer, J. Cousteau, gives the following account as a result of his studies in water barriers: “We studied the assertions by certain researchers about barriers separating seas, and noticed that the Mediterranean Sea had its own salinity and density and housed autochthonous fauna and flora. Then we examined the water of the Atlantic Ocean and discovered features entirely different from those of the Mediterranean Sea. According to our expectations, these two seas that merged in the strait of Gibraltar should present similar characteristics in terms of salinity, density and other properties. The two seas presented different features even though they were adjacent. This greatly puzzled us. An incredible barrier prevented the two seas from coming together. The same sort of a barrier had also been observed in Bab Al-Mandab in the Gulf of Aden connecting with the Red Sea.

    June 30, 2013 at 10:56 am |

    This is the happiest day of my life.


    June 30, 2013 at 6:31 am |
    • Science

      E= mc2 splat


      June 30, 2013 at 8:05 am |
  16. o

    God created happiness

    June 30, 2013 at 5:59 am |
    • Robert

      Gawd talks to me. And he said I have to eat strawberry Jello on every other Thursday when the sun goes down. I also have to turn around and yell "BoogaBooga". This will satisfy Gawd and make me a true follower of his wisdom.

      June 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • E pluribus unum

      What does it mean to you? Do you yell boogabooga? From the bible, God can put hearing, seeing, dreaming, into someone, or make physical stuff then and there. It can be global in scale, or locally only meant for one. If you're being told to eat strawberry Jello, why do you think that is?

      June 30, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • fintastic

      God doesn't exsist

      July 1, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  17. Cuppa

    Typical CNN "logic"...if you're not a Christian you must be an atheist....if you're not an atheist you must be a Christian.

    June 30, 2013 at 4:44 am |
    • Saraswati

      Where in this article does it imply that?

      June 30, 2013 at 6:42 am |
    • That's just the top of it

      That poster posted a while ago but I'll answer for them. Most CNN articles are for the target audience of one or the other. It's a rare find if you get an article for any other demographic.

      June 30, 2013 at 7:02 am |
    • Saraswati

      I agree they target those two groups almost exclusively and that is annoying. I got the impression the comment had something to do with the article, but I would agree its a CNN editorial policy, though maybe not "logic" so much as a guess as to what will sell.

      June 30, 2013 at 7:09 am |
  18. LinCA

    Here is a script for Notepad++ to circumvent the filters.

    To install it:
    – Get Notepad++ (it's a free download, just google it).
    – Go to: Plugins – Plugin Manager – Show Plugin Manager – add the plugin Python Script.
    – Go to: Plugins – Python Script – New Script.
    – Give the new script a name and save.
    – Copy everything between the # signs below into the new script.
    – Save the script.
    – Go to: Plugins – Python Script – Configuration – Add script to Toolbar icons.

    To use it:
    – Compose comment in Notepad++.
    – Select entire comment.
    – Run script by clicking the toolbar icon.
    – Copy and post.

    If you need to add new words, just add lines to te script in the "banlist" variable (mind the quotes and comma).

    Script below:

    banlist = ( 'arse',
                'wonderful us' )

    selStr = editor.getSelText()

    startAnchor = editor.getSelectionStart()
    endPos = editor.getSelectionEnd()
    if( endPos > startAnchor ):
        startAnchor = editor.positionFromLine( editor.lineFromPosition( startAnchor ) )
        tmp = startAnchor
        startAnchor = endPos
        endPos = tmp
    selectionLength = endPos - startAnchor
    addedCharachters = 0

    for index in range(len(banlist)):
        findString = banlist[index]

        if ( findString != 'wonderful us' ) :
            isWU = 0
            replacePos = 3
        else :
            isWU = 1
            replacePos = 10

        l = len( selStr )
        f = len( findString )

        if ( l >= f ) :
            c = (l - f)
            lastTagIsOpen = 1

            while ( c >= 0 ) :
                clip = str.lower( selStr[ c : c + f ] )
                if ( ( l - c ) > 2 ) :
                    if ( str.lower( selStr[ c : c + 3 ] ) == '<b>' ) :
                        lastTagIsOpen = 1
                if ( ( l - c ) > 3 ) :
                    if ( str.lower( selStr[ c : c + 4 ] ) == '</b>' ) :
                        lastTagIsOpen = 0
                if ( clip == findString ) :
                    if isWU :
                        selStr = selStr[ 0 : ( c + replacePos - 1 )] + '&nbsp;' + selStr[ ( c + replacePos ) : len( selStr ) ]
                        addedCharachters += 5
                    else :
                        if lastTagIsOpen :
                            selStr = selStr[ 0 : ( c + replacePos - 1 ) ] + '<b></b>' + selStr[ (c + replacePos - 1) : len( selStr ) ]
                            addedCharachters += 7
                        else :
                            selStr = selStr[ 0 : ( c + replacePos - 1 ) ] + '</b><b>' + selStr[ (c + replacePos - 1) : len( selStr ) ]
                            addedCharachters += 7
                c -= 1

    editor.replaceSel( selStr )

    endPos = editor.getLineEndPosition( editor.lineFromPosition( endPos ) )
    editor.setSel( startAnchor, selectionLength + addedCharachters )


    June 30, 2013 at 2:02 am |
    • startAnchor

      Why does an article about happiness, need offensive words forced into it?

      June 30, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      many normal words have bit and fragments of the offensive ones...kind of a pain to hunt for that one word: say consti tution in a block of text sometimes.

      June 30, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      said that wrong – Many offensive words make up part of normal words...they get caught by the filter.

      June 30, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • E pluribus unum

      In the end, needing 20 passwords and phrases to post a comment, often to atheists that don't want to know God anyway.

      Who is my family? Who does the will of God? If they all did the will of God, none of it would be necessary.

      June 30, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  19. rmk

    I think that for the most part you may be right but no atheists I know follow any of the atheists in question. It is interesting that this study focused on evangelicals (in the Christians most of the five were prominent evangelicals and most of the five atheists are almost evangelical in their atheism) rather than more moderate middle of the road individuals. Especially in the atheist camp moderates who themselves do not believe in God(s) but are tolerant and accepting of all beliefs may in fact be happier tweeters.

    June 29, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    June 29, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • Science

      Leave a Reply to Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things................and crickets go SPLAT !

      Researchers say ability to throw played a key role in human evolution

      Jun 26, 2013


      Mechanics of Throwing


      June 29, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
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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.