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Social Media and Cell Phones Aid Scientific Research

By Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on May 21, 2012

Social Media and Cell Phones Aid Scientific ResearchA digital native is an individual born during the last 40 years. This cohort typically uses technology in many aspects of their daily life including work, play and social functions.

Many admit that the way in which they use social media and technology represents their personality and thought processes.

Accordingly, psychological researchers are investigating how new media and devices both reveal and change our mental states.

Two recent articles in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science, explore how trends in technology are changing the questions psychological scientists are asking and the ways they ask them.

The explosive growth of Facebook — with its 800 million-plus users — is viewed by researchers as a ripe target to investigate people’s social relationships.

In a new study, psychological scientists Robert E. Wilson, Samuel T. Gosling and Lindsay T. Graham compiled all social-science studies involving Facebook. They then reviewed the types of questions researchers are asking.

The investigators discovered people are drawn to Facebook because they can maintain connections both with close friends and distant friends in an informal manner.

Researchers have also shown that Facebook users tend to portray themselves accurately in their profiles, making Facebook profiles an excellent source for employers to evaluate job candidates and for businesses to find new consumers for their products.

Companies who decide to use Facebook to collect information should be wary, though, because studies have demonstrated that Facebook users are becoming increasingly concerned about their privacy over time.

The caution for privacy infringement is also a subject scientists must deal with when they design their Facebook studies. However, Wilson and his colleagues believe that the value of the data collected from Facebook outweighs the challenges scientists have to overcome to obtain it.

The now-ubiquitous cell phone represents a new research data source and tool, given the rapid proliferation of smartphones.

Psychological scientists believe the smartphone represents an unprecedented method to achieve real-world or practical information.

Because people are constantly on the go, one of the biggest challenges researchers face is collecting data in real time in people’s everyday environments.

Scenarios can be recreated in the laboratory, but psychological scientist Geoffrey Miller asks why scientists should rely on simulations when they could tap the power of smartphones instead.

One advantage of smartphones is that people tend to carry them almost everywhere they go. The sensors on smartphones can also provide a wealth of information beyond a user’s location, including whether a person is moving, how they are moving, and whether an individual is in close proximity to other smartphone users.

By using “psych apps” that users download to their phones, Miller suggests that scientists would be able to obtain a more accurate representation of how environments influence behavior.

One app already in use is “Mappiness,” which combines your location, ambient noise level, and your mood to find out how your environment influences your mood. Miller also predicts that smartphones could eventually be equipped to detect other things, such as temperature, radiation levels, and pollution.

There are downsides to smartphone research, including the limited battery life of smartphones, having to account for different phone models, and the fact that focusing on smartphones would only allow researchers to study individuals who could afford them (i.e., young, well-to-do people).

Yet Miller believes that it is not a question of whether there will be a smartphone revolution in psychological science research, it is a question of when the revolution will happen.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Smartphone photo by shutterstock.

 

APA Reference
Nauert, R. (2012). Social Media and Cell Phones Aid Scientific Research. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/05/21/social-media-and-cell-phones-aid-scientific-research/38977.html

 

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