University of Vermont

University Communications

Happiness Study Featured in 'Times,' 'Science,' and 'Chronicle'

Release Date: 08-04-2009

Author: Joshua E. Brown
Email: joshua.brown@uvm.edu
Phone: 802/656-3039 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Research by University of Vermont scientists shows an unexpected new way to measure the nation's mood. And the nation's newspapers and bloggers are paying attention.

Peter Dodds and Chris Danforth, applied mathematicians working in UVM's Advanced Computing Center, have built a "hedonometer," — a data-mining technique for measuring the happiness expressed by millions of blogs, Twitter tweets and song lyrics.

Their study is described today in The New York Times by Benedict Carey: "Does a Nation's Mood Lurk in Its Songs and Blogs?"

Science magazine covered the UVM research yesterday in a ScienceNOW story, "How Happy is the Internet?"

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the findings in their Wired Campus section: "Think You're Happy? Song Lyrics May Have the Answer."

Dodds and Danforth's finding that the day of Michael Jackson's death created a dip in the nation's mood caught the attention of Reuters news agency. Their newswire story on the research was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers and online sites around the world, including India and Australia.

"It's been translated into Spanish and is all through South America too," Dodds says.

Information wants to be free

Their results have received so much attention, at least in part, by design: Dodds and Danforth arranged to have their original scientific paper, "Measuring the Happiness of Large-Scale Written Expression: Songs, Blogs, and Presidents," permanently available for free in the Journal of Happiness Studies. (Either PDF or HTML format can selected.)

"We wanted to have the paper be open-access so it would be available to everyone," says Dodds, an expert on networks and theories of how ideas and information spreads. "In an electronic world where information spreads around the world in minutes, scientific publications kept behind a locked door are of little use to society," says Danforth. "The open-source mentality behind Linux and Wikipedia is rapidly lowering disciplinary barriers in academia and beyond, enabling sociotechnological collaborations between artists, journalists and scientists."

And not surprisingly, bloggers themselves are commenting on the findings and re-posting UVM's original news story about the research.

Closer to home, Vermont Public Radio's Ross Sneyd interviewed Dodds, WCAX television covered the study, and the Burlington Free Press's Tim Johnson wrote a front-page story.

"Of course, we're happy about all this," says Dodds.