How the internet changes us and our science

In recent years web-based scientific research is expanding and reinventing itself constantly. Publications and research articles in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology conducted via web-based tools have relatively increased by about 543% from 2008 to 2009 (Denissen, Neumann, van Zalk, 2010).

With almost near-universal internet access in most of the developed world (e.g. 90 % of Sweden’s population has daily access to the internet as the Internet World Stats report 2001 to 2009 shows), the newest technology does not only affect us on a daily basis, but also shapes our daily social interactions and the way in which we conduct research. In addition to psychological offline data collection via questionnaires and experiments for instance, web-based research through online surveys, apps and special web applications is able to facilitate and amplify our scientific data collection.

Therefore, making use of these new technological opportunities, research in psychology and other humanity sciences has become more virtual and online based. We collect data about us and the world around us online, answer questionnaires on our phones while traveling home or participate in diary studies before going to bed.

Online web-based data collection offers many advantages to scientific research. Most importantly:

  1. Data can be collected more easily and economically.
  2. Entered data can be validated in real time and the user can be prompted for correction.
  3. Data anonymity can be guaranteed if researchers assure the anonymous and separate storage of participants’ answers and their ID codes.
  4. Researchers can reach a more representative sample much easier, especially if distributing their surveys via various social media platforms.

In their brilliant article on “How the internet is changing the implementation of traditional research methods, people’s daily lives, and the way in which developmental scientists conduct research” Denissen, Neumann and van Zalk (2010) explain chances and challenges the new generation of online research provides. They explain why web-based research has risen to such popularity in the past decade and what is needed to conduct it.

The authors do not avoid the challenges of these new possibilities either. Challenges that range from secure storage of participants’ data, secure data transmission, online communication and the need for extensive testing and debugging of online tools.

Hand in hand with these opportunities comes a change. A change in how we interact with other people in our offline world. The frequent use of technology and internet does shape our interpersonal communication and interactions as many researchers of the field of cyberpsychology underline. The massive wealth of data individuals leave on the internet, particularly on social media platforms, such as Facebook or Google+ are used to investigate personality factors and their impact on various outcomes. The existence of this data enables scientists to investigate all kinds of hypotheses, ranging from how personality affects consumer behavior to how the use of social media is associated with depression and loneliness.

For those interested in more information on the advantages and pitfalls of online data collection, we highly recommend reading Dennissen, Neumann and van Zalk’s (2010) article.

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