Emotions and virtual sociality: oxymoron or fuzzy reality?

Emotion and virtual sociality: oxymoron or reality fuzzy?The Web, in particular the spaces offered by social networking services, has created new virtual environments and made available to users new communication technologies that allow both to produce a new representation of themselves in public and new techniques of communication and relationship between users.

The early pioneers of this change were Blogs, in which you communicated mainly using written language. Then, the first social network was born that led to a revolution. With the introduction of Facebook people have begun to share their flow of information, their thoughts and moods, not only using the words, but also using the share of post, music, images, videos etc.. Every thing, every action, every emotion that you live becomes common knowledge to all in the “Hinc et nunc”. Facebook is a Social Network that more than anything else has been able to understand the potential of the network; in fact, just click a “Like” to trigger an unstoppable flowing chain.

Since 2004, the unstoppable creation of the Web 2.0 social platforms also appeared, which follow each other. If we ask family and friends to write a list of social networks who they know, we might hear names of applications that we do not know because the situation is rapidly changing and it seems impossible to keep up with.

After you’ve learned how to tag, post and twitter, we can not know the new platforms as well as more specialized.  For example, LinkedIn was founded as a professional social network for individuals and businesses with the aim of maintaining the network of the contacts among colleagues. An incredible evolution is occurred with the birth of smartphone and tablet with the aim of improving communication. In this way is created : WhatsUp (for those who want to keep updated on the messages of friends), Foursquare (geolocation), Foodspotting (for those who love good food and restaurants), etc.

According to the Italian dictionary, the primary meaning of  “Change” is “make someone or something different, and to transform”. Given this definition we can say that Social Network have strongly changed our daily life  (Arcuri, 2008). We can define new media as “mediation” (Minnini, 2004; Riva, 2008) that facilitate the communication process overcoming the limitations imposed by the interaction face-to-face. On the other hand, you pose as a medium between the interacting parties, replacing the direct experience of confrontation with the other. The disembodiment that characterizes computer-mediated communication, might lead us to think of a cold environment because the mediation of the body is less (gestures, tone of voice, the looks) but through Social Networks, the problem seems not totally solved. If we could make a qualitative analysis of arguments and topics treated on the most popular social network, we would find that the contents are more intense and the emotions are better shared.

The human interpersonal communication is a complex system.  According to Paul Watzlawick (1967), any communication process has two distinct dimensions: the content (what people say) and  the relationship (what people send to the verbal level but also non-verbal, reported the quality of the relationship between them). Every human communication takes place on different levels that allow you to convey messages from sender to recipient.

Emotions have an important role in the complexity of the components that constitute a communicative act. The emotions involved not only modulate our relationships with others, our behaviour and our thoughts, but are also sometimes the most authentic form of communication that we have in face-to-face interactions. The expression of emotions, feelings and moods is a component that is transmitted more than others, in virtual enviroment(Garrison et al., 2000) but ability to express is reduced by changing by face to face communication to a computer. In oder not to lose the non-verbal communication using emoticons (stylized reproductions of the main human facial expressions in the presence of an emotion), or other forms of  creative writing (Anderson, 2002; Baracco 2002; Riva 2002). We can say that the language and sharing of emotions it is adequate to the Web 2.0 so that today we have social platforms devoted to them, as Emotizer. Thanks to this original emotional tagging system, you can share the excitement that users feel at a particular time and place, selected among 24 possible emotions, combined with colours and sounds. The new version called Emotizer 1.3, brings the world of emotions to become a social application, where you can search on emotions and share their feelings with the network’s contacts. Trough Emotizer and some statistics you can also track the time course of the emotions between each user.

In the world of Social Network, Pinterest represent the true fashion of 2012. Pinterest is a  platform is which similar to a blackboard on which you can hang whit pins, photographs of his interest. Pinterest was born from the idea of three American boys: Paul Sciarra, Evan Sharp and Ben Silbermann and it is based on the sharing of images and videos, that every member can save on your wall using pin button, cataloguing the material chosen according to different areas issues. It also allows you to connect directly to Facebook and Twitter to organize contacts with followers and fans on the images just pinnate. Also how to subscribe is very particular. You must be invited or have a request for registration, in both cases will Pinterest which then will consider the request and accept or not the person. If you have the honour of entering the network of Pinterest you will receive an email with a lot of “Congratulation”, as if it had actually been awarded. Some research on this new social network showed a female predominance among users (68%) than men (32%). Pinterest was in USA in October 2011, and it landed in Europe in January 2012 with a boom, particularly in Italy and France. It is belived that this platform can become an emotional channel excellence always more interesting to the world of marketing. Many brands have already immersed into the experience and started to “pin” their brands, the contents of their websites, testimonials of their advertising campaigns etc.., Through the use of images that can evoke emotions in the users, trying to find creative ways to show how products or services can fit into the daily lives of its target audience.

Research Methodologies

The social networks can be described as a framework within which people relationship and dynamics clearly why some online communication components are similar to those of face-to-face communication (Radicchi, 2009).

Early researches in the field of communication and interaction in Web 2.0 have tried to understand the users behaviour using models of interpretation of the classic social psychology. These  early studies failed to describe the variety of online behavior as researchers have used traditional  theories  (Barak & Suler, 2008) . It seems that the new mode of communication in social networks has not only introduced a new way of communicating, but also new psychological factors. For example, users have increased the production of contents in their processed through the organization and publication of material not only verbal (video, images, etc..), through comments to post items that create threads on the topic; also the Social Network stimulate the expression of their views for content posted by others. This enormous amount of data is a valuable source for what concerns the perceptions, tendencies, feelings and emotions of the users, as they can provide interesting qualitative information of their online behaviour. The sharing of emotional experiences play a central role in the daily life of each it helps to raise the mood and makes it more solid and strong interpersonal bonds, making them more and more intimate (Rimé et al., 2011).

Many research works have struggled to find the best method to extract informations from these data. One of  the emerging research aims to extract information that relates to the emotions felt by users, through the analysis of their writing and their tagging. Beig aware that emotions in verbal communication can be expressed through appreciations, it is important to get to know the feelings that people have towards a particular content, in order to obtain feedback that can lead to decisions.

The methods and computer applications in the analysis of emotions, and in particular the text written by users, have had strong growth in recent years (Pang & Lee, 2008).  Opinion Mining and Sentiment Analysis are programs that perform a scan of a large number of user’s comments, identifying positive and negative words and phrases that are related to the concept or the product you’re considering. The tools that are used are represented by the intersection of semantic and statistical analysis interpretation of written language, through the syntax, repetition of keywords and  the decryption of idioms.

Many  researches have been conducted on text-sentiment to make predictions on user preferences; for example, through the sentiments expressed in 140 characters from Twitter (Tumasjan et al., 2010), the diagnosis of trends  to express happiness in discussions within blog (Dodds et al., 2010); in Facebook status updates (Pang & Lee, 2008).

This area of research was mostly motivated by marketing to succeed in having a detailed and immediate feedback from customers about a particular product (Pang & Lee, 2008), but now he wants to try to broaden the progress and insights that come from Opinion Mining to detect emotions in different social contexts, not just commercial (Thelwall et al., 2011). For example, noting the excitement in notices of people and use this information to better understand their intentions and purpose underlying communicative; you could get in this way to prevent predatory behaviour online, chat abuse etc. (Thelwall you al, 2008).


The pleasure, the elation, euphoria, ecstasy, sadness, despair, fear, anger, serenity, adversity and depression are just some of the emotions that color our lives. They enrich our experience and imbue our actions of passion and originality.Our life is full and governed by emotions, they allow you to evaluate the changes that occur in the environment in order to be able to respond effectively to them. It is rare that things appear only reachable or unreachable, grasp with your hand or your mouth, most of the time hiding a danger or an opportunity. The  reason of repulsion or attraction, fear, or astonishment, of disgust or interest, of pain or pleasure (Rizzolati & al., 2006). The same happens with the people we meet or know: their behavior doesn’t embody only certain types of act, but often result in us anger, hate, fear, admiration, compassion, hope, etc.. Regardless of whether they result in a feeling conscious or not, that shake up our body explicitly and recognizable outside or have only internal physiological reactions, emotions have on our brain an essential tool for navigating between the many sensory information and trigger  more opportune responses automatically.

Most theories on emotions defines emotional experience in terms of psychological processes that have a variable time course in multiple components: hedonic tone, physiological reaction, the expressive component; evaluative component, conative component (Villamara & Bracco , 2009). Today more than ever before, we live in a world that could be called emotional. There are many factors that can affect the emotional dimension of every individual; for they are the ones that are part of Web 2.0, faithful companion of our days. The success of large-scale social network as we’ve seen has changed the way we communicate, interact and express ourselves. Virtual communities are create on common interests, and sharing thoughts with a strong affective tonality and emotional states of users may affect cascade also other users contact (Tang et al., 2011).

Understanding the dynamics of human emotions within the social network is definitely an important resource for both marketing and psychology,  we cannot limit ourselves to study this phenomenon so multifaceted only quantitatively through algorithms, formulas and statistical analysis. Understanding the basic mechanisms that constitute the consumer ‘s psychological individuality in order to relate to them is now the real engines of creation needs. “Until recently, our marketing needed to sell. Today, before you sell, you have to involve the client to amuse, to build an emotional connection. The way in which people develop affinity with a brand is changing […] Consumers want to be entertained, informed, educated where and when they want them. How? We understood one thing: we must transform our brand in a service. We explain to our employees who aren’t selling a product or a brand, but a service and experience. […] Sounds crazy, but things are moving in this direction (Jim Stengel, Global Marketing Officer of Procter & Gamble, 2005).

Today marketing to better understand the need and desires of consumers has the aim to explore their mind, their personality and their emotions. To do this you need to combine quantitative analysis and qualitative analysis in the world of Web 2.0 that can retrieve information about the expressive component, the hedonic tone of emotions and physiological reactions of the user. This will be the challenge of the coming years.

Dr. Samantha Bernardi
Forensic psychopathologist

Dr. Ambrogio Pennati
MD, Psychotherapist
Forensic psychopathologist
R&D Director, FreeDataLabs, Milano


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