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 the 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 in the 40ies to the 60ies of the last century 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 that constitutes an option package that allows us to put psychological research on a completely new footing. One, that can 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 and ask them time and again: All we have to do is being bold enough to use the new opportunities and work closely together with all the necessary 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:
- 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.
- Collecting psychological and thus personal and 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 and automation of analyses that can 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, which made them possible in the first place.
The second point is as much about citizen empowerment as educating them about how their minds work but requires an additional independent institution to guarantee data privacy by system design: The personally identifying data should always be strictly separated from the completely anonymized “content data”. Basically, 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’re a group of scientists that have learned that our research goals that require scaling-up psychological studies are easier to achieve, if we go down the entrepreneurial road. The Healthbank Cooperative is our strategic partner that 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 the research basis of the future for social sciences that will be open for all publicly funded scientists to use. Get ready to think big: What would you investigate, if you had a cohort of more than 100 k individuals that you can ask?
Author: Dr. Christian Vogler