Online viewers mirror the emotions of vlogs posted by YouTubers, a study finds.

Source: Emotional Contagions Can Spread Like Wildfire Via YouTube

Christopher Bergland

Do you subscribe to any YouTube channels? Do you feel especially simpatico with a particular YouTuber? Does the emotional content of a YouTube video blog (vlog) mirror the word-emotion associations used by viewers when writing comments about the video blogger (vlogger) or vlog?

These are the kinds of questions that researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands were interested in when they began investigating what happens when “birds of a feather flock together” on YouTube.

Their report, “Multilevel Emotion Transfer on YouTube: Disentangling the Effects of Emotional Contagion and Homophily on Video Audience,” was published online today in the journal Social Psychological and PersonalityScience. According to the researchers, this is the first study to use a video-focused social media source such as YouTube to explore emotional contagion and homophily. The term “homophily” (McPherson et al., 2001) refers to the tendency we have to bond with people like ourselves.

We all know from firsthand experience that being around someone who is anxious can make you anxious; being around someone giddy can make you giddy; being around someone grouchy makes you grouchy; and so on. Surprisingly, until now, there’s been relatively little research on how these types of interpersonal emotional “contagions” spread online via YouTube.

For their recent investigation into emotional contagions and homophily on YouTube, a trio of researchers from Tilburg University led by Hannes Rosenbusch examined 2,083 YouTube vlogs that were selected from a pool of 110 vloggers (a.k.a. “YouTubers”) who had at least 10,000 subscribers.

Rosenbusch et al. used a word-emotion association lexicon to measure the range of emotions expressed in user comments on each particular vlog. The NRC Emotion Lexicon is a comprehensive list of English words and their associations with eight emotions—anger, fear, anticipation, trust, surprise, sadness, joy, and disgust—and, more broadly, with negative emotions and positive emotions.

“We find that video- and channel-level emotions independently influence audience emotions, providing evidence for both contagion and homophily effects. Random slope models suggest that contagion strength varies between YouTube channels for some emotions. However, neither dispositional channel-level emotions nor number of subscribers significantly moderate the strength of contagion effects. The present study highlights that contagion and homophily independently shape emotions in online social networks,” the authors said.

 Rosenbusch et al./Social Psychological and Personality Science (2018)
The video-level effects of vlogger emotions on spectator emotions (solid lines) are estimated within vlogger channels and under consideration of average vlogger emotions (dashed lines). Almost all video-level slopes (99.3 percent) remain positive while varying in size.
Source: Rosenbusch et al./Social Psychological and Personality Science (2018)

As you can see in the diagrams above, there appears to be an immediate (contagion) effect of watching a particular vlog and also a sustained (homophily) effect that leads to YouTuber emotions and viewers’ emotions mirroring each other.

“Our research is a reminder that the people we encounter online influence our everyday emotions — being exposed to happy (or angry) people can make us more happy (or angry) ourselves,” Rosenbusch concluded in a statement.

Follow the Money: Who Were the Highest-Paid YouTubers in 2018?

After reading about the latest research (Rosenbusch et al., 2018) on how emotional contagions can spread like wildfire via YouTube, I was curious to do a deeper dive into the current “birds of a feather flocking together” zeitgeist. Money talks. So, I asked myself: Which YouTubers are creating the biggest “homophily” ripple-effect based on how much income each vlogger generated as a cult-of-personality brand in 2018?

A quick Google search led to a recent Forbes article listing the “Highest-Paid YouTube Stars of 2018.” Based on these rankings, I’ve curated a top-ten list of vlogs from these YouTubers. If you have time, take a few minutes to watch some of these vloggers as a “homophily” guinea pig.

Does watching any of the vlogs below make you feel as if you’ve been exposed to a positive or negative emotional contagion, thus corroborating the latest findings by Rosenbusch and colleagues at Tilburg University?


Forbes List: Top-Ten Highest-Earning YouTube Stars 2018

10. Logan Paul Vlogs (8,688,873 subscribers/2018 Earnings: $14.5 million)


9. PewDiePie (78,487,516 subscribers/2018 Earnings: $15.5 million)


8. Jacksepticeye (21,040,954 subscribers/2018 Earnings: $16 million)


7. Vanoss Gaming (24,023,654 subscribers/2018 Earnings: $17 million)


6. Markiplier (22,702,844 subscribers/2018 Earnings: $17.5 million)


5. Jeffree Star (11,722,503 subscribers/2018 Earnings: $18 million)


4. DanTDM (20,809,880 subscribers/2018 Earnings: $18.5 million)


3. Dude Perfect (37,594,502 subscribers/2018 Earnings: $20 million)


2. Jake Paul (17,624,706 subscribers/2018 Earnings: $21.5 million)


1. Ryan ToysReview (17,585,225 subscribers/2018 Earnings: $22 million)



Hannes Rosenbusch, Anthony Evans, and Marcel Zeelenberg. “Multilevel Emotion Transfer on Youtube: Disentangling the Effects of Emotional Contagion and Homophily on Video Audiences” Social Psychological and Personality Science (First published online: December 27, 2018) DOI: 10.1177/1948550618820309

Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, and James M. Cook. “Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks” Annual Review of Sociology (Volume publication date: August 2001) DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.27.1.415

Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist.