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Surprising Science

Social Media and Big Data Open New Realms for Research

Psychologists who were becoming bored with the internet by the late ’90s only had to wait a few more years before the ultimate Petri dish of human thought and behavior emerged. 

Social media is like a psychologist’s wet dream. Not only does it offer a relatively new medium through which one can evaluate personality and behavior, but also platforms like Facebook come stocked with loads and loads of data ripe for analysis. This leads to new research on subjects such as language analysis, mental and physical health, and cross-cultural differences. All this is according to t, who writes at Psych Central. Dr. Nauert covers several notable studies conducted using social media data. For example:

“One study, published in the journal Assessment, analyzed Facebook statuses of study participants using open-language analysis. The researchers generated word clouds that visually illustrated how several personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness) appear on Facebook.

The study found that certain phrases are predictive of specific personality traits.

For example, individuals who score high in neuroticism on a self-reported personality assessments are more likely to use words like sadness, loneliness, fear, and pain.

Researchers believe that this data may provide novel connections that may not be apparent in traditional written questionnaires and surveys.”

Other types of research covered by Dr. Nauert include tweet analyses that can predict physical health issues and assessments of social and gender trends by pinpointing certain choice words in captions and statuses. These results sound similar to those mentioned by OkCupid founder Christian Rudder in his Big Think interview (below) and in his book, Dataclysm. Rudder explains that this recent massive influx in data has allowed for a radical brand of objective, empirical, societal analysis on both macro and micro scales. It’s a fascinating new world we’re living in and everyone with a psychology degree is gunning to get their hands on the tools to study it.

Read more at Psych Central.

Photo credit: kentoh / Shutterstock


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