Good news travels fast.

Especially on social networks. So says Jonah Berger, a social psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and author of new book (and recent SXSW talk), Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

Berger and his Penn colleague Katherine Milkman dove into people’s social networking habits, analyzing the types of content people share most, with whom, when, and why. The results are pretty fascinating.

Here are the major takeaways from Berger’s research:

The more positive an article, the more likely it is to be shared

As the New York Times writes of Berger’s findings, “Debbie Downer is apparently no match for Polly Positive, at least among Times readers.”

Berger and Milkman analyzed the “most e-mailed” list of the newspaper’s website for six months, and found that stories that aroused emotion – especially positive – in people were much more likely to be shared. Content that was deemed exciting or funny met the shareable criteria. And interestingly, articles and columns in the Science section were much more likely to make the list than nonscience articles. Berger deduced that science aroused feelings of awe in readers and made them want to share that emotion with others in their social network.

People say more positive things when they’re talking to a bigger audience

In oral conversation, one-on-one, you have less time to construct your thoughts and think carefully about what to say and how to say it. But when it comes to sharing on social media, with a mass audience, people can craft their output and tend to do so with a positive spin. Hence, those envy-inducing vacation photos on Facebook and bragworthy TwitPics from exciting conferences and events.

Social media is really social ME-dia

Plus, as Berger points out, social networking conversations have a great deal of innate “self-presentation.” Rutgers researchers classify an incredible 80% of Twitter users as “meformers” who tweet mainly about themselves.

Here’s how Berger sums up his over-arching finding that good news travels faster than bad over social media:

“The ‘if it bleeds’ rule works for mass media that just want you to tune in. They want your eyeballs and don’t care how you’re feeling. But when you share a story with your friends and peers, you care a lot more how they react. You don’t want them to think of you as a Debbie Downer.”

What do you think? When you think back on the types of articles you tend to share on Twitter and Facebook, are they more positive or more negative?

Hat tip: New York Times.

(Image via Shutterstock)