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I'm interested if there are publicly available tools or resources that can be used to gauge the overall activity/excitability or mood of general public for a specific day.

For example, yesterday I noticed that my favorite restaurant was packed, and their receipt order count was close to 700 orders before 7:30PM. At my favorite hackerspace, there were significantly more people than usual, and multiple new people have shown up. There was a large donation left at the hackerspace.

A situation like the one described above peaks my interest in whether or not there are some environmental factors that affects general population of the United States. Naturally, the first step is to demonstrate that some sort of statistically significant changes from day to day exist, then find potential sources.

I'm aware of this question that suggests that twitter analysis can be used to detect sentiment, but are there tools that can do this kind of twitter analysis for a layperson, like myself?

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Alex, just to clarify, are you looking at what environmental factors affect mass-psychological responses? or something along those lines? In any case +1, interesting question! –  user3554 Aug 23 '13 at 17:05
I first want to understand if there is an influence. I don't see anything wrong with the question, it has to be broad, since I don't really know what kind of tools are there that can answer the question if there is an influence on mass public. –  Alex Stone Aug 23 '13 at 20:24
@AlexStone for the record, I do not see anything wrong with this question at all. –  user3554 Aug 23 '13 at 21:48
@AlexStone here is a news article about how they are doing something similar to that in Vilnius, Lithuania - nydailynews.com/life-style/… a public happiness barometer! –  user3554 Aug 24 '13 at 0:25

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In psychology, you have two types of measurement: either a trained observer judges the behavior of the subjects without them having to actively partake in any kind of test or experiment; or the test subjects fill in a test (self-report) or take part in an experiment.

Obviously the mood in a city cannot be re-created and measured in an experiment, but you still have the two other options:

1) If you want to estimate public mood without the cooperation of members of the public, all you need is an experienced observer. His observations will become more reliable, if he creates a scale of symptoms to watch out for (similar to the diagnostic tools in clinical psychology), instead of letting his gut-feeling decide. It would take a comparison of many observations over a long period of time to "normalize" or "standardize" these judgments. You could take objective data into account, like amount, speed and movement patterns of traffic, number of accidents, medical emergencies and their type (heart attack), public activities like street music, sunbathers etc. How these relate to certain moods I don't know, but a long term observation might show relations.

Pines and Maslach developed a matrix to calculate the resources required to support a public event and use the audience profile for assessment of crowd mood. Their model is two-fold. First, they use descriptors to clearly identify separate groups (for example, families, young adults, children, elderly, and rival factions). Second, they attach a rating scale (1–5) to these groups. This rating scale is used to grade the amount of verbal noise, physical movement and overall audience participation. ...

Using this model to assess 35 events, Zeitz et al found that crowd mood was an important factor in predicting medical workload at a mass gathering event, although it did not significantly affect the work of other emergency services, such as police or fire and rescue. ...

Practical strategies to monitor and measure crowd mood and type, along with the resultant behavior of a crowd, have received limited attention. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1049023X12000155)

2) Similar to the example from Vilnius, Lithuania, given in a comment by Damien, or television audience measurement, you can select a representative sample from the population in question and measure their moods or relevant behaviors through self-report or objective measures (biophysiological measures, tracking mobile phone location etc.). Similar techniques have been used in a multitude of psychological experiments, from using mobile phone data to analyse friendship networks, to people reporting their behavior to the experimenters in real time using apps.

I am not aware of any research done on public moods in this way apart from the example from Vilnius, but I have not been looking very hard and I think something might be found, if you do a more thorough search. Relevant keywords might be "assessment, monitoring crowds, mass gatherings, mob psychology".

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