Character  &  Context

New Technological Advances Provide Valuable Data for Personality Social Psychological Research

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By Vivian P. Ta

Smartphones, Fitbits, apps, social networks: New technological advances allow us to be more connected with each other than ever before. Not only can it provide us with a wealth of information about others—it can also teach us a lot about ourselves.

At the New Methods Preconference held at the SPSP Annual Convention, social and personality psychologists discussed different ways that every day technology can provide valuable data for psychological research. Speakers included

  • Michal Kosinski, assistant professor at Stanford University
  • Ryan Boyd, PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin
  • Benjamin Crosier, post-doctoral researcher at Dartmouth College
  • Ryne Sherman, assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University
  • Marianne Schmid Mast, full professor at University of Laussane
  • Gabriella Harari, PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, and
  • Jason Rentfrow, University Senior Lecturer at the University of Cambridge.

The data that is collected through these technological advances can be a great source of data for social and personality psychology researchers, especially since it can provide access to very large, very representative, and very diverse samples. For perspective, the amount of big data produced on a daily basis would pile from the Earth to the Sun four times over.

How do researchers get their hands on these data? Researchers can collect the data themselves through a variety of methods, such as through an API (application program interface) that can be used to collect data on websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, ad targeting on social media websites, websites like mypersonality.org in which users allow access to from their Facebook data, and many others. Obtaining big data can even be as easy as emailing a corporation and asking for the data that they have collected.

Smartphones are especially valuable sources of data, as 64% of the world population uses a smartphone. Sensors on mobile phones, such as call/text logs, application use logs, GPS, or accelerometers, can be used to quickly and easily collect data on social interactions, activity (walking, running, cycling), distance travelled, and others.

A gadget called Narrative Clip can provide data on situations that people encounter every day. Narrative Clip is a small, wearable device that captures images according to a predetermined interval. When worn, it can provide unobtrusive insight into people’s normal, everyday lives.

These technological advances also come with their share of challenges, such as distinguishing between public versus private data, consent to obtain personal data, and an increasing need for technical and analytical skills (e.g., programming skills).

Despite these challenges, new technological developments will continue to progress over time. This will undoubtedly provide even more ways for researchers to measure and to learn more about people’s behaviors and everyday situations and how it can impact their daily lives.


Vivian P. Ta, NSF LSAMP BD Fellow and PhD student, University of Texas at Arlington

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Character & Context is the blog of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). With more than 7,500 members, SPSP is the largest organization of social psychologists and personality psychologists in the world.   

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