Mar 13, 2018 | 12:15—13:00
After collective traumas like natural disasters and terrorist attacks, members of concerned communities experience intense emotions and talk profusely about them. These verbal exchanges resemble emotional venting and seem devoid of social functions. However, Durkheim’s theory of emotional effervescence postulates that these collective emotions fulfill major social functions, generating social identity, reinforcing shared beliefs, and leading to higher solidarity.
We present the first large-scale test of this theory through the longitudinal analysis of digital traces captured in Twitter after the Paris terrorist attacks of November, 2015. Examining the temporal evolution of these collective emotional responses, we observe them to last considerably longer than emotions in isolation. Collective emotional expression is followed by a marked increase in the use of lexical indicators related to social resilience, in particular social processes, prosocial behavior, and shared values. In addition, we show that individuals who participated to a higher degree in the collective emotion also evidenced a superior use of terms associated to social resilience in the months after, though they did not evidence this trend in the months before the attacks.
Together, our findings support the conclusion that collective traumas can activate emotion sharing feedback loops in the concerned community, as described by Durkheim. Our results support the existence of social resilience effects following the collective emotions elicited by a terrorist attack.