experiments and observational studies to large-scale projects
based on thousands or millions of individuals. Observing or
experimenting with large samples enables scientists to minimize
the problem of sampling errors, which are typical to social
science, and to detect patterns that might not be apparent in
smaller samples. It also offers unprecedented insights into
the dynamics and organization of individual behavior and
social systems, with the potential to radically improve our
understanding of human psychology.
However, researching psychological phenomena in the
digital environment requires skills that are relatively uncommon
among social scientists, such as recording, storing, processing
and analyzing large databases. Since social scientists have been
relatively slow to embrace the skills needed to conduct research
using Facebook and similar platforms, data-driven human
subjects research is increasingly ceded to computer scientists
and engineers, who often lack the appropriate theoretical
background and ethical standards.
We strongly encourage our fellow social scientists to not
only train themselves in modern computational methods, but
to immerse themselves in new human environments, including
Facebook. These digital arenas offer new opportunities for
social science research and new challenges for researchers
in their own right. Additionally, with proper training,
psychologists and others can conduct studies at a lower cost and
larger scale than ever before. n
Michal Kosinski, PhD, is an assistant professor in organizational
behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Sandra C. Matz is a PhD candidate in psychology at the
University of Cambridge.
Samuel D. Gosling, PhD, is a personality/social psychologist at
the University of Texas at Austin.
Vesselin Popov is the development strategist for the University of
Cambridge Psychometrics Centre, a multidisciplinary research
institute specializing in online behavior and psychological
David Stillwell, PhD, is the deputy director of The Psychometrics
Centre at the University of Cambridge.
This article is a condensed version of “Facebook
as a Research Tool for the Social Sciences,”
published in the September 2015 issue of
American Psychologist. To read the full article,
which includes all citations and references, go
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