Twitter-vention: What Behavioral Science Says About Impulse Tweeting

Impulse tweeting | Behavioral science

Are you too impulsive for your own good? Do you frequently find yourself angrily tweeting at 2am, posting things you later regret enough to erase? You may want to log out of Twitter and read on.

Many of us act on impulse. We crave instant gratification and so we often find ourselves eating things we know we shouldn’t, watching Netflix when we know we should be studying, or saying mean things we later regret.

Nothing screams “instant gratification” like social media. With almost no effort, we can watch videos, read articles, and express whatever is on our minds to audiences of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of others. Unsurprisingly, this ability to instantaneously publish our thoughts can get us into trouble.

Emotional Outbursts and Possible Twitter-ventions

If your account is publicly available, you can’t control who reads your posts or how far they spread. According to researchers at the University of Munster, emotionally charged content is spread more quickly than neutral messaging. This means that if you have a regrettable social media outburst, it will be difficult for others to forget. No one will remember your tweet about what you ate for breakfast, but they will remember when you post an incendiary tweet about the “haters and fools” whose opinions differ from yours.

So, why do we have these outbursts in the first place? When we experience emotions like anger, our self-control suffers, leading us to act more aggressively. However, when we distract ourselves from the emotions we are feeling rather than ruminating about the experience that caused them, we are better able to control our aggression.

Remembering a time when we behaved cooperatively can also help us to regain self-control. In one experiment, participants who remembered a time when they behaved cooperatively were more likely to believe that “one little sin might be one of many,” and were thus less likely to give in to temptation on a later task. For example, if you think about a time when, say, you worked with a large group of people in the hopes that you might win a contest (or perhaps an election of some kind), you may be more well-equipped to resist publicly insulting someone who disagrees with you.

For those trying to prevent themselves from impulsively sending regrettable social media posts, here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Take a step back. Think of a time when you cooperatively worked with others. Maybe you had a really great experience volunteering at a local soup kitchen, or maybe you have a really great and productive team of coworkers that you enjoy working with. Putting yourself into this frame of mind might actually decrease your desire to send that overly-emotional tweet.
  2. Take the perspective of someone who might advise you. For instance, what might your mother think if you decided to post that antagonistic tweet? If your mother is anything like mine, she would probably tell you that posting angry tweets is not a worthwhile use of time. By thinking about the situation from someone else’s perspective, we diminish the influence of our own irrational emotions, allowing us to think more clearly. This more rational state will allow us to make better decisions and to stay out of trouble.
  3. Find an accountability partner. This could be someone who also has trouble biting their tongue (or fingers?) when they get emotional, or even someone who is trying to reach another goal. In this relationship, you hold one another accountable for your actions. If one of you sends an angry tweet or decides to skip the gym and stay at home eating pizza, you will have the other person to answer to. They might ask you what “covfefe” means, and you might ask them why they couldn’t make it to the gym. Being reluctant to disappoint this other person will help keep you on track and off of Twitter.
  4. If all else fails, try to distract yourself from the emotion you are feeling. Are you enraged over something someone might have said about you? Sad that your friends seem to be ignoring you? Stay away from Twitter! Instead, do something else to occupy your mind. Go golfing, bake some cookies, or pick up one of those books on your shelf that you’ve been meaning to read. After some time, you may find that your emotions have subsided and you no longer feel the need to berate someone online.

It can sometimes seem like our impulses are impossible to overcome. However, by proactively taking a step back to evaluate whether we really need to give in to our base desires, we may be able to overcome them and to prevent future embarrassment and/or international catastrophe.


Ciara Lutz is a research associate at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight, an applied behavioral science research lab that helps people be happier, healthier and wealthier.



Denson, T. F., Pedersen, W. C., Friese, M., Hahm, A., & Roberts, L. (2011). Understanding impulsive aggression: Angry rumination and reduced self-control capacity are mechanisms underlying the provocation-aggression relationship, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(6), 850-862. doi: 10.1177/0146167211401420

Steinmetz, J., & Mussweiler, T. (2017). Only one small sin: How self-construal effects self-control, British Journal of Social Psychology, 56, 675-688. doi:10.1111/bjso.12208

Stieglitz, S., & Dang-Xuan, L. (2013). Emotions and information diffusion in social media–Sentiment of microblogs and sharing behavior, Journal of Management Information Systems, 29(4), 217-247. doi: 10.2753/MIS0742-1222290408