Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Keeping track of happiness

September 30th, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Social media is changing all kinds of things – including how we do research.  Take a look at this review in the New York Times of some work that was recently published in Science.   Researchers at Cornell looked at mood cycles of 2 million people as gleamed by their Twitter feeds.  Essentially they found that people posted more positive messages in the morning and right before bed.  The piece in the times does a nice job of reviewing the findings – which are very interesting and have implications for organizations (e.g., when should we encourage people to do certain tasks given that we know people perform better and are more creative when in positive moods).  But I am very interested in the methods used here.  What else can we study using things like Twitter, Facebook, or text messages?

One of the most significant challenges faced by a social science researcher is finding ways to be unobtrusive.  Ideally, we aim to study people without them knowing they are being studied.  In reality, it is rarely possible.  So most studies are burdened by the limitation that the person being studied is aware they are being watched and has the opportunity to change their behaviour.  This, in turn, limits our ability to draw conclusions from the observation.  It is a problem that exists with data collected through direction observation, surveys, and a multitude of other methods.  Social media represents a storehouse of information that was established prior to any study.  It is naturally occurring and we, as researcher, can go in there, ask questions, and pull out the relevant information. 

Now as the piece in the times points out, collecting data in this way presents a new set of challenges.  No research approach will ever be perfect but it is really exciting to see new methods on the horizon.   


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