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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. Princepoliblog

    “bad,” “wrong,” and “awful” or “think,” “reason” and “question,”

    I think this data is "bad", the students are "wrong", the scence is "awful" and they should "think" and use "reason" as they "question" the ideas behond the tweets. How did I do?

    July 2, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  2. Jeebusss

    What a complete bunch of BS. So because Christians are tweeting: "Jesus Loves You" again and again while acting like complete a**holes in real life they are happier because their text analyzer recognizes the word "love" in there huh?

    Complete pseudoscientific nonsense.

    July 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • Polly

      You just demonstrated the articles point perfectly. Christians celebrate this article while atheists get angry about it.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  3. Informed

    Happier...or...brainwashed

    Life is always happier when you don't have to deal with it.

    July 2, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  4. EnjaySea

    Yes, of course Christians would be happier. They've bought into a fantasy where deities, angels, and spirits from outer space are taking care of their daily needs, while an army of demons are tormenting their enemies. And they envision an afterlife in eternal paradise, in the warm benevolent gaze of their creator. Ah.... how wonderful!

    Now wake them up from that dream, and prop them up where they can see the real world again for what it is, and watch how fast that grin gets wiped off their face.

    July 2, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  5. guest

    Richard Dawkins said what?
    ‘The more statistically improbable a thing is, the less can we believe that it just happened by blind chance. Superficially the obvious alternative to chance is an intelligent Designer.’ — Dr. Richard Dawkins (Department of Zoology, Oxford University, UK)
    And Hubert Yocky said What?
    “The origin of life by chance in a primeval soup is impossible in probability in the same way that a perpetual machine is in probability. The extremely small probabilities calculated in this chapter are not discouraging to true believers … [however] A practical person must conclude that life didn’t happen by chance.” — Hubert Yockey

    July 2, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • EnjaySea

      And then Dawkins continued with the words that creationists always seem to accidentally leave out of his quote:

      "But Charles Darwin showed how it is possible for blind physical forces to mimic the effects of conscious design, and, by operating as a cumulative filter of chance variations, to lead eventually to organized and adaptive complexity, to mosquitoes and mammoths, to humans and therefore, indirectly, to books and computers. Darwin's theory is now supported by all the available relevant evidence, and its truth is not doubted by any serious modern biologist..."

      July 2, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Christian: Life can't come from non-life; therefore, big invisible sky wizard did it by chanting magic spells!
      Atheist: If life can't come from non-life, where did the big invisible sky wizard come from?
      Christian: No, no!! Big invisible sky wizards are the exception that proves the rule; big invisible sky wizards can come from non-life!

      July 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  6. tallulah13

    This study claims words like “think,” “reason” and “question” are negative. I would like to understand how they came to that conclusion. It's almost like they believe that the only way to be happy is to stop thinking.

    July 2, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • tallulah13

      Sorry about the double post. My first didn't show up initially and I thought my computer was having problems.

      July 2, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Robert Brown

      I don't think there is any thing negative about thinking, reasoning, or questioning. Do you understand what this means; flesh is flesh, spirit is spirit?

      July 2, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • tallulah13

      I'm speaking of the study, Robert. They made flawed conclusions based on their own choice of what constituted happy words. If words associated with cognition are considered negative, what does that say about the study?

      July 2, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • matt

      completely agree.

      July 2, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Informed

      I would suggest that thew study was done in order to prop up a myth.

      July 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Princepoliblog

      Woody Aleen: "Why are you so happy?" Lady on Street "Because I have no opinions about anything, and neither does my boyfriend."

      July 2, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  7. tallulah13

    This study claims words like “think,” “reason” and “question” are negative. I would like to understand how they came to that conclusion. It's almost like they think that the only way to be happy is to stop thinking.

    July 2, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  8. Henry

    The Pittsburgh Pirates are the best team in baseball.

    If that doesn’t prove that God exists, I don’t know what is.

    July 2, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Pirates are the chosen people of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
      Ergo, the FSM is the real and true Creator of the universe.
      R'amen.

      July 2, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Henry

      Either way it disproves atheism once and for all.

      July 2, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Henry
      I guess the only question now is "which god"?
      Based on your argument about a sports team, the FSM is in the lead.
      But it could be Angus, Belenos, Brigid, dana, Lugh, Dagda, Epona, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Atehna, Demeter, Dionysus, Eris, Eos, Gaia, Hades, Hekate, Helios, Hephaestus, Hera, hermes, Hestia, Pan, Poseidon, Selene, Uranus, Zeus, Mathilde, Elves, Eostre, Frigg, Hretha, Saxnot, Shef, Thuno, Tir, Weyland, Woden, Alfar, Balder, Beyla, Bil, Bragi, Byggvir, Dagr, Disir, Eir, Forseti, Freya, Freyr, Frigga, Heimdall, Hel, Hoenir, Idunn, Jord, Lofn, Loki, Mon, Njord, Norns, Nott, Odin, Ran, saga, Sif, Siofn, Skadi, Snotra, Sol, Syn, Ull, Thor, Tyr, Var, Vali, Vidar, Vor, Black Shuck, Herne, Jack in the Green, Holda, Nehalennia, Nerthus, endovelicus, Ataegina, Runesocesius, Apollo, Bacchus, Ceres, Cupid, Diana, Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Maia, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Pluto, Plutus, Proserpina, Venus, Vesta, Vulcan, Attis, Cybele, El-Gabal, Isis, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Endovelicus, Anubis, Aten, Atum, Bast, Bes, Geb, Hapi, Hathor, Heget, Horus, Imhotep, Isis, Khepry, Khnum, Maahes, Ma’at, Menhit, Mont, Naunet, Neith, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Ptah, ra, Sekhmnet, Sobek, Set, Tefnut, Thoth, An, Anshar, Anu, Apsu, Ashur, Damkina, Ea, Enki, Enlil, Ereshkigal, Nunurta, Hadad, Inanna, Ishtar, Kingu, Kishar, Marduk, Mummu, Nabu, Nammu, Nanna, Nergal, Ninhursag, Ninlil, Nintu, Shamash, Sin, Tiamat, Utu, Mitra, Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukiyomi, Inari, Tengu, Izanami, Izanagi, Daikoku, Ebisu, Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Fu.kurokuju, Jurojin, Hotei, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, Inti, Kon, Mama Cocha, Mama Quilla, Manco Capac, Pachacamac, Viracoc.ha, or Zaramama.

      Eenie, meenie, miney – Quetzlcoatl!

      July 2, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • Henry

      I don’t know which is the correct God but my post did prove once and for all that there is one.

      July 2, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Doobs

      If the Cubs win the World Series, I might consider that there could be a deity. Still, a pretty big asshole of a deity, though. I mean, it's been since 1906.

      Sort of like the second coming.

      July 2, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  9. Tony

    Glad to hear Christians are spreading cheer!

    July 2, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  10. Flamespeak

    People of faith tend to be happier than people without faith in general. Studies have shown this time and time again, but it is not a good measure of which side is right or wrong, nor is it a good sign of who is 'winning'.

    If happiness were a measure of who is right and who is winning, the mentally handicapped is beating everybody.

    July 2, 2013 at 4:14 am |
    • fintastic

      Please provide links for these "studies"

      July 2, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  11. HarryGP

    They're happier, because they realize who it is in the bible, and how much he cares for them.

    July 2, 2013 at 12:13 am |
    • tallulah13

      Christians are happier because they believe in the fairy tale that they have a super-powerful god-daddy who loves them best. Perhaps they'd be less cheerful if they realized that there isn't any evidence that their god-daddy exists, and that they are actually responsible for their own lives.

      July 2, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  12. pickle

    They could say anything they wanted to, without any prompting or knowing they were being tested. Believers are happier, believing God. Having Jesus Christ of Nazareth as a friend, who wouldn't be happy? He can save you, if you let him. He loved you enough to die for you in one of the worst ways imaginable. Strength and love, that's Jesus.

    July 1, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • FRDMS2THELFT

      people who believe in santa claus are happier than those who don't

      July 1, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • Ernest T Bass

      I believe in leprechauns and I am very happy!

      July 2, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • o

      I believe the one who created happiness, God

      July 3, 2013 at 4:45 am |
  13. Dandintac

    Of course this study got these results. People who comment on feeds from the Pope, or Joel Osteen, are going to be Christians, and since they are commenting largely about religion, which they approve and like, there will be more positive words. Or course! On the other hand, people who comment on feeds from advocates for atheism, like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, are going to be commenting about something they don't like or approve of–religion. Therefore there will naturally be more negative words. Of course! Why would you expect a different outcome? It's set up that way. How could any researcher not see this would happen? It makes me wonder if they set up the study to get just such an outcome.

    A more honest and unbiased approach would be to count up the positive and negative words by theists and atheists on a topic that is neutral in terms of religious content.

    July 1, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
  14. GOOD NEWS

    In order to be real happy,

    one must know the one and only Real GOD.

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    July 1, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
  15. Joel

    I am Messianic, and this really doesn't surprise me. I have agnostic and atheist friends who really don't seem to have direction or purpose in their lives. I used to be that way as well. Since I received Yeshua as my Adonai (Lord) and Savior, I can verify that I am much happier, and much more at peace. Shalom

    July 1, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      My experience is the exact opposite of yours, so I guess I come to the opposite conclusion. Anecdotes are so nice to have.

      July 1, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Nihlism

      I float between both of the ideas. Either there is a God or there is not. As charming as I find the idea there is always the more provable point that there is nothing, no life no meaning a purely random accident and that nothing matters. In a hundred years my existence will be forgotten. I can wave back and forth between ideas for hours and in the end laugh, cry and laugh again because it's all absurd really.

      July 1, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Atheism and Nihilism are two different things, but yes, in the end, it's all absurd. All the more reason to enjoy the moment and the people and situations you love and hold dear.

      July 1, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • tallulah13

      My friends are pretty much the same whether they are christian, atheist or agnostic. We all work hard, have things we enjoy doing, love our families and try to get on as best we can in life. We're all just normal people. Of course, we're friends because we accept each other just as we are and don't judge by something so petty as religious affiliation.

      July 2, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  16. Rory

    Who uses Twitter?

    July 1, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • tallulah13

      People who like to talk but don't have anything to say.

      July 2, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  17. Randy

    Joyful Christians live a happy life.

    July 1, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  18. Question

    Have the filters changed can't post.

    July 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  19. I Don't Use Twitter

    This is awfully skewed. I stay off of twitter. Positive actions are mostly attributed to the non-existant sky hero, hence the appearance that resulted in this article. Quite simple really.

    July 1, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  20. Post a comment

    It's like going out into the world where 2/3rd of the population doesn't agree, or thinks you're crazy.

    What is c?

    I can guess, given the context.

    July 1, 2013 at 12:11 am |
    • Post a comment

      It's what's in the bird's mouth, isn't it?

      Ya, that's how I feel about God.

      July 1, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • Post a comment

      It's got the same angle.

      It's wit and love.

      July 1, 2013 at 12:25 am |
    • Post a comment

      It was on the hand.

      July 1, 2013 at 1:36 am |
    • Post a comment

      The article itself is about brevity and love... wit and love...

      July 1, 2013 at 3:32 am |
    • Post a comment

      c?

      Wit and love.

      July 1, 2013 at 3:38 am |
    • Post a comment

      3 parts.

      Only 27 hours.

      July 2, 2013 at 3:36 am |
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