Big Data

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Originally posted on April 18, 2014.

“The Internet is one big field study,” observed Adam Kramer, a social psychologist and Facebook researcher, at the recent Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) presidential symposium on big data.  Some big data factoids, gleaned from the conference:

  • There are, according to Eric Horvitz, Managing Director of Microsoft research, 6.6 degrees of separation between any two people on the Internet.
  • Google has now digitized 6 percent of all published books, creating a huge archive of words that can be tracked over time at  One can use this resource to answer interesting questions . . . such as: is it true that the term “homosexuality” hardly predates the 20th century, and that “sexual orientation” is a late 20th century concept?  It took me about a second to create this figure of the proportional frequency of these terms over time:


  • On Facebook, Kramer reported
    • Parents and children take an average 371 days to friend one another.
    • Mothers use 10% more nurturing words when communicating with their children.
    • In the 2010 congressional elections, people’s posting their having voted led to 340,000 additional voters among their friends and friends of friends.
    • Positive emotion words in people’s posts are followed, in the ensuing three days, by increased positive emotion words in friend’s posts, and vice versa for negative emotions.
  • A research team led by Blaine Landis at the University of Cambridge analyzed all 30.49 billion international Facebook friendships formed over four years, and reported (in an SPSP poster) that people tended to “friend up.”  Those from countries with lower economic status were more likely to solicit friendship with those in higher status countries than vice versa.
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About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see