Judging mood of nation: experiment to see if Irish still look on bright side of life

Fri, Apr 27, 2012, 01:00

A HOME-GROWN science experiment will analyse thousands of text messages and emails to judge the mood of the nation.

The National Happiness Experiment will gauge the tenor of the nation by judging sentiment contributed by up to 5,000 individuals via text message and email between May and November. The experiment is to be conducted by the School of Psychology in Trinity College Dublin.

Ian Robertson, a professor of psychology in TCD who is co-curator of the latest exhibition at Dublin’s Science Gallery and the brain behind the experiment, noted that the Irish have almost consistently ranked themselves as happy in numerous global studies.

“In spite of having had the biggest economic shock of any developed country in this century, Ireland a couple of months ago in a world happiness survey . . . came top in the world with 90 per cent of people giving nine out of 10,” said Prof Robertson.

The experiment – based on research undertaken in Boston’s Harvard University – is supported by Vodafone which is providing more than half a million free text messages to facilitate the undertaking, which begins in a fortnight. Initial findings may be available as early as July.

Participants who sign up to take part in the experiment will send and be sent free texts which will ask them to rate their mood on a scale of 0 to 11 (which should make all you Spinal Tap fans happier already). Participants will also be asked about the number of recent positive and negative experiences in their lives. They will then be sent weekly text or email prompts, which will either be positive or neutral, again to quantify happiness.

“What we’re going to have between now and November is effectively weekly data about what the mood of the nation is,” explains Science Gallery programme manager Lynn Scarff.

The experiment is part of a wider science of happiness project which begins today at the Science Gallery, Pearse Street, Dublin.

Aptly entitled Happy? the exhibition invites visitors to the gallery to participate in 12 experiments set to test levels of contentedness and this data will then be analysed and eventually published.

The Lab in the Gallery event, which marks the 50th anniversary of the school of psychology in Trinity, presents a range of research experiments. These include a test to discover in what way personality characteristics influence how attracted we are to others, an investigation of the link between national pride and happiness and how witnessing a good deed affects us.

We can only hope that the results reflect Prof Robertson’s positive take on the nation: “I think Irish people are very, very good at the important things in life which are relationships, charity and relative lack of materialism . . . all things which science shows contribute to wellbeing.

“I think Ireland’s capacity for happiness will be a major factor in getting them out of the recession. I think it’s as valuable as foreign direct investment in terms of a resource.”