Emotion shapes the diffusion of moralized content in social networks

William J. Brady, Julian A. Wills, John T. Jost, Joshua A. Tucker, Jay J. Van Bavel, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

92 Scopus citations

Abstract

Political debate concerning moralized issues is increasingly common in online social networks. However, moral psychology has yet to incorporate the study of social networks to investigate processes by which some moral ideas spread more rapidly or broadly than others. Here, we show that the expression of moral emotion is key for the spread of moral and political ideas in online social networks, a process we call "moral contagion." Using a large sample of social media communications about three polarizing moral/political issues (n = 563,312), we observed that the presence of moral-emotional words in messages increased their diffusion by a factor of 20% for each additional word. Furthermore, we found that moral contagion was bounded by group membership; moral-emotional language increased diffusion more strongly within liberal and conservative networks, and less between them. Our results highlight the importance of emotion in the social transmission of moral ideas and also demonstrate the utility of social network methods for studying morality. These findings offer insights into how people are exposed to moral and political ideas through social networks, thus expanding models of social influence and group polarization as people become increasingly immersed in social media networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7313-7318
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume114
Issue number28
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 11 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

Keywords

  • Emotion
  • Morality
  • Politics
  • Social media
  • Social networks

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