Future-Oriented Tweets Predict Lower County-Level HIV Prevalence in the United States

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Objective: Future orientation promotes health and well-being at the individual level. Computerized text analysis of a dataset encompassing billions of words used across the United States on Twitter tested whether community-level rates of future-oriented messages correlated with lower human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) rates and moderated the association between behavioral risk indicators and HIV. Method: Over 150 million tweets mapped to U.S. counties were analyzed using 2 methods of text analysis. First, county-level HIV rates (cases per 100,000) were regressed on aggregate usage of future-oriented language (e.g., will, gonna). A second data-driven method regressed HIV rates on individual words and phrases. Results: Results showed that counties with higher rates of future tense on Twitter had fewer HIV cases, independent of strong structural predictors of HIV such as population density. Future-oriented messages also appeared to buffer health risk: Sexually transmitted infection rates and references to risky behavior on Twitter were associated with higher HIV prevalence in all counties except those with high rates of future orientation. Data-driven analyses likewise showed that words and phrases referencing the future (e.g., tomorrow, would be) correlated with lower HIV prevalence. Conclusion: Integrating big data approaches to text analysis and epidemiology with psychological theory may provide an inexpensive, real-time method of anticipating outbreaks of HIV and etiologically similar diseases.

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