Health / Pharma

For understanding family structure to trauma: New technology is yielding bigger data

Social media can do more than just entertain us and keep us connected. It also can help scientists better understand human behavior and social dynamics. The volume of data created through new technology and social media such as Facebook and Twitter is lending insight into everything from mapping modern family dynamics to predicting postpartum depression.
“By analyzing different types of social media, search terms, or even blogs, we are able to capture people’s thinking, communication patterns, health, beliefs, prejudices, group behaviors – essentially everything that has ever been studied in social and personality psychology,” says James Pennebaker, president of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), which is kicking off its annual conference today in Austin. “We can examine thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people at once or track them over time.”
Pennebaker of the University of Texas-Austin, whose work has explored the power of language in revealing our personality and behavior, is chairing a session today on the opportunities enabled by big data and new technology. No longer do research psychologists need to rely on traditional experimental designs, “running one upper middle class college student at a time,” he says. “We now have access to the world of social behavior in ways never imagined before.”

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