The rippling dynamics of valenced messages in naturalistic youth chat

Seth Frey, Karsten Donnay, Dirk Helbing, Robert W. Sumner, Maarten Bos
Event Behavior Research Methods
Research Areas Human Computer Interaction

Abstract: Even though human behavior is largely driven by real-time feedback from others, this social complexity is underrepresented in psychological theory, largely because it is so difficult to isolate. In this work, we performed a quasi-experimental analysis of hundreds of millions of chat room messages between young people. This allowed us to reconstruct how—and on what timeline—the valence of one message affects the valence of subsequent messages by others. For the highly emotionally valenced chat messages that we focused on, we found that these messages elicited a general increase of 0.1 to 0.4 messages per minute. This influence started 2 s after the original message and continued out to 60 s. Expanding our focus to include feedback loops—the way a speaker’s chat comes back to affect him or her—we found that the stimulating effects of these same chat events started rippling back from others 8 s after the original message, to cause an increase in the speaker’s chat that persisted for up to 8 min. This feedback accounted for at least 1% of the bulk of chat. Additionally, a message’s valence affects its dynamics, with negative events feeding back more slowly and continuing to affect the speaker longer. By reconstructing the second-by-second dynamics of many psychosocial processes in aggregate, we captured the timescales at which they collectively ripple through a social system to drive system-level outcomes.