Stanford sociologists encourage researchers to study human behavior with help of existing online communities, big data

A group of Stanford experts are encouraging more researchers who study social interaction to conduct studies that examine online environments and use big data.

The internet dominates our world and each one of us is leaving a larger digital footprint as more time passes. Those footprints are ripe for studying, experts say.

In a recently published paper, a group of Stanford sociology experts encourage other sociologists and social psychologists to focus on developing online research studies with the help of big data in order to advance the theories of social interaction and structure. Companies have long used information they gather about their online customers to get insights into performance of their products, a process called A/B testing. Researchers in other fields, such as computer science, have also been taking advantage of the growing amount of data. But the standard for many experiments on social interactions remains limited to face-to-face laboratory studies, said Paolo Parigi, a lead author of the study, titled “Online Field Experiments: Studying Social Interactions in Context.”

Parigi, along with co-authors Karen Cook, a professor of sociology, and Jessica Santana, a graduate student in sociology, are urging more sociology researchers to take advantage of the internet. “What I think is exciting is that we now have data on interactions to a level of precision that was unthinkable 20 years ago,” said Parigi, who is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

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