(CN) – Although Twitter can be a hotbed of negativity and political fighting, researchers revealed Tuesday that it can become a more positive experience if its users do one thing: visit a city park.
In a first-of-its-kind study published in the journal People and Nature, University of Vermont scientists found that people who visited urban parks used happier words and displayed less negativity than before they went outside to take in nature.
“We found that, yes, across all the tweets, people are happier in parks,” said Aaron Schwartz, a UVM graduate student who led the new research, “but the effect was stronger in large regional parks with extensive tree cover and vegetation.”
The research team examined hundreds of tweets per day over the course of three months from people who posted from 160 San Francisco parks. Research suggests that the effect parks have on people are so strong, it’s equivalent to the mood spike on Christmas, the happiest day on Twitter.
“A big focus in conservation has been on monetary benefits–like: how many dollars of flood damage did we avoid by restoring a wetland?” said Taylor Ricketts, co-author and director of the Gund Institute for Environment. “But this study is part of a new wave of research that expands beyond monetary benefits to quantify the direct health benefits of nature. What’s even more innovative here is our focus on mental health benefits –which have been really underappreciated and understudied.”
Researchers examined tweets from people who were tagged at parks around San Francisco. The study found that larger parks with an abundance of vegetation boosted peoples’ mood greater than smaller parks that might have less trees and flowers.
“This is the first study that uses Twitter to examine how user sentiment changes before, during, and after visits to different types of parks,” Schwartz said. “The greener parks show a bigger boost.”
Scientists used an online program called a hedonometer that analyzes billions of tweets and searches for certain key words that have been scored for their “psychological valence,” a way of measuring positive and happy tweets.
Words are ranked on a 1-9 scale, with happier words like “happy” and “hahaha” near the top, neutral words like “the” in the middle and words like “trapped,” “crash” and “jail near the bottom.
Researchers said that while “Twitter users are not a representative sample of all people,” the findings could be used to “help public health officials and governments make plans and investments” in community parks.