Tech UPTechnologyCan you depress pollution?

Can you depress pollution?

There is no doubt among the scientific community: the atmospheric pollution that punishes many of the cities is insane to the point of being lethal. A recent study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong indicates that it causes the premature death of 1.1 million Chinese per year. According to the WHO, the number of victims exceeds 7 million people worldwide, and 9 out of 10 human beings breathe air that is polluted to varying degrees.

What has not been studied so much is whether pollution influences the mood of those who suffer from it. Now, a study by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and researchers from several Chinese universities comes to say that yes: pollution depresses a significant number of the inhabitants of 144 urban centers in China (the one in the photo is Hong Kong).

Sneaks social networks

Analyzes of the level of happiness of individuals and populations are often based on surveys. But now they also use the algorithms that sweep social networks and classify what mood is reflected by the millions of tweets and other online interactions that occur every day.

That is what the authors of this work have done. Its machine learning algorithm (a kind of artificial intelligence capable of learning without being programmed to do so) has analyzed 210 million posts on Sina Weibo, a Chinese social network used by around 30 percent of the citizens of the Asian power, and that shares characteristics with both Facebook and Twitter.

The algorithm measured the mood reflected by those posts and tweets (issued between March and November 2014, although the research was just published) and recorded their date. Then he crossed those parameters with the pollution data of those days in the 144 cities where the analyzed online publications were made.

Result: in the days with the highest air pollution, there was a clear tendency for users of social networks to post more comments and opinions that reflected unhappiness. The data indicated that the effect was more pronounced among women and people with high incomes.

According to Siqi Zheng, director of the research, “Pollution has an emotional cost. It makes people more unhappy, and that leads them to make irrational decisions ”. This MIT professor argues that on days with a lot of pollution – and in Chinese cities there are quite a few at the end of the year – people tend to show more impulsive and risky behaviors, linked to brief episodes of anxiety and depression.

The work led by Zheng adds to the efforts of Chinese scientists to combat air pollution in the emerging superpower. It is a very difficult task, because environmental deterioration is linked to economic development that has improved the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese who, however, demand measures from their government to be able to enjoy cleaner air in their daily lives.

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