News in psychology
The good, the bad and the bigly
It’s been almost 8 years since the replication crisis has plunged psychology into a serious scientific crisis. Ironically, by now, one of the most replicable findings in psychology is that only half of psychological studies can be successfully replicated. While some find themselves either in despair or in denial about this circumstance, I would argue that this is rather a huge opportunity to rethink, renew and complement our methodology. We’re so used to applying alleged gold-standard testing paradigms that originate from the 40-60ies that we’ve gone somewhat blind to the new and amazing construction kit that IT and the virtual world are offering us for conducting observations on a completely new scale.
The internet has connected the world and allows us to go way beyond the confinements of small-scale brick and mortar lab-based psychology experiments. Taken together, it constitutes a package that allows us to put psychological research on a completely new footing. It might provide the evidence we currently still owe, if we only examine WEIRD people in small groups. Now, we can not only conduct field research globally with hundreds of thousands of study participants simultaneously, we can also continuously interact with them; all we have to do is to be bold enough to use the new opportunities and work closely together with different professional groups to make this happen.
Yet, two requirements are central for such a web-based world-wide research endeavour to be truly successful:
1. The whole setup needs to focus on the user experience and benefit of the study subjects. This may well be in the form of “infotainment”, as the typical monetary compensation for tediously boring experimental setups is simply out of question for ultra-large global cohorts.
2. Collecting psychological and thus highly sensitive data on a global scale needs a failsafe forward-looking data protection policy and guaranteed anonymity.
The first point can be addressed by using psychological instruments in the guise of entertaining computer games, as well as to provide individually tailored and understandable feedback to everyone taking part. In addition, the interesting research results drawn from such a project should also be made directly accessible to the general public.
The second point concerns citizen empowerment; provinding them interesting insights about how individuals' minds work. However, it requires an additional independent institution to guarantee data privacy: indeed, the personally identifying data should always be strictly separated from the completely anonymized “content data”. Basically, it's the complete opposite of Facebook and the likes: it must not be possible to turn your data into a business model without your clear consent or without giving you the lion’s share of the earnings.
Advancience is a startup that is based on the COSMOS research project from the University of Basel. We have learned that our research goals require scaling-up psychological studies and that it is easier to achieve if we go down the entrepreneurial road. The Healthbank Cooperative is our strategic partner, which ensures that the data generators themselves own the data and are always in charge of how their data is being used.
Together we’re building a research basis for publicly funded scientists. Get ready to think big: What would you investigate, if you had a cohort of more than 100 k individuals?
Author: Dr. Christian Vogler