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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 received his psychology Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He has spent his career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has taught dozens of introductory psychology sections. Hope College students have invited him to be their commencement speaker and voted him "outstanding professor." His research and writings have been recognized by the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, by a 2010 Honored Scientist award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, by a 2010 Award for Service on Behalf of Personality and Social Psychology, by a 2013 Presidential Citation from APA Division 2, and by three dozen honorary doctorates. With support from National Science Foundation grants, Myers' scientific articles have appeared in three dozen scientific periodicals, including Science, American Scientist, Psychological Science, and the American Psychologist. In addition to his scholarly writing and his textbooks for introductory and social psychology, he also digests psychological science for the general public. His writings have appeared in four dozen magazines, from Today's Education to Scientific American. 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 For his leadership, he received an American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award in 2011, and the Hearing Loss Association of America Walter T. Ridder Award in 2012. He bikes to work year-round and plays daily pick-up basketball. David and Carol Myers have raised two sons and a daughter, and have one granddaughter to whom he dedicates the Third Edition of Psychology in Everyday Life.