Marie-Hélène Budworth

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

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Using Big Data to predict well-being

November 18th, 2014 · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

Achievement concept in tag cloud

I recently had the privilege of attending a lecture by Dr. Marty Seligman where he was awarded the inaugural Tang Foundation prize.  Dr. Seligman is a prominent psychology, past president of the American Psychological Association, creator of the modern day field of Positive Psychology.  In his lecture, he talked about where we have been as a field, where we are today, and where we are going.  I was particularly struck by his ideas around future research methods.

To date, the field of psychology has relied heavily on self-report measures.  In fact, a large part of the advancement of psychology as a science has been around rigorous measurement and assessment using paper and pencil measures.  Dr. Seligman argues that the days of self-report a numbered!  A bold statement when one considers the prominence of this method across the field.

A recent series of studies by Seligman and colleagues has found that Big Data might be a way forward in terms of deepening our understanding of psychological processes, particularly at the community or population level.  In his recent work, mined Twitter and Facebook posts for 45,000+ words used in updates.  The words that were searched focussed on affective states, positive and negative.  Specifically, he and his colleagues looked for well-being words and found that he could use the word clouds created by these feeds to predict heart disease within communities.  In sum, when words associated with well-being were used at a higher level within a community, that community suffered less heart disease relative to commutes where these words were used less frequently.  The interesting thing about this finding is that young people were the ones tweeting and updating their Facebook status while older people were the ones suffering from heart disease!  The wellness of the young people predicted heart disease among older individuals?!

In Dr. Seligman’s words, we are moving toward being able to predict well-being at the community, and eventually country level, by looking at data available through social media.

There are clear applications of Big Data for organizational behaviour and HRM.  What are the factors that drive innovation and creativity?  What are the features of an organizations culture?  This information can be gather by the way in which we communicate – the language used in emails, intranet posts, speeches, publications.  What other questions can be answered by Big Data within organizations?


3 Comments so far ↓

  • Michael B

    Great article Marie! After reading this post it helped spark a memory I had when reading another article from last year titled ‘Cloud, big data and social media transforming HR’. Seeing such research as the one study conducted by Seligman and colleagues helps bring that article to life finally in some capacity. I think we live now in an interesting time where we will slowly start to see HR departments slowly starting to learn about the impact that social analytics, cloud and other technical innovations could have in driving the effectiveness of their businesses!

  • budworth

    Larry I – I thought I would shed light on how big data in a HRM context can be used for predictive measures. For instance through telematics, modern trucking companies can monitor the behavior of their drivers. They may measure speed, braking, turning acceleration etc to determine driving patterns.

    Today this data is used for training and development of drivers on better behaviours to improve safety. In the near future when this data sample becomes larger and more complex we will have ability to analyze patterns that develop before a crash. Knowing what subtle changes predict a crash, we will be able to identify and warn the driver of their behavior, flashing a warning to the driver to indicate their driving puts them at a high risk of accident in the next X hours. Hopefully this stark warning will serve to alter their behaviour.

    These measures can be used for all sorts of worker safety issues in high risk occupations.

  • budworth

    Erin T – Interesting article, Marie!
    Dr. Seligman’s research on positive psychology is very interesting, especially in regards to analyzing big data of the organization to determine “psychological processes” of employees. Although, it would be interesting to discover if there are any other studies that take this research a step further, by way of using similar techniques to apply to reviewing big data such as emails and internal webchats and how they define an organization’s culture. More specifically, how does employee language , and their online presence through intranet websites, internal organization chats etc., shape and form the language of the organization? If the way employees interact with each other defines the mood and culture of the organization, can an organization determine which form of communication can have the highest impact in altering a company’s culture? And with this information readily at hand, would the organization be willing to manage or “manipulate” (for lack of a better word) the language to make adjustments and have a more positive impact on a culture that may be considered negative or toxic. Also, when organizations have the opportunity to view big data and interpret the language of the employees, does this pose a potential problem of gaining too much control and power over the organization. (extreme micro-management)