Twitter used as research tool for America’s psyche

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Emory researchers Phillip Wolff, associate professor of psychology at Emory, and Robert Thorstad, Ph.D. candidate in psychology in the Laney Graduate School, were interviewed about a new study they authored on mining data from tweets to gain insights on human behavior.

Researchers are mining data from tweets to gain insights on human behavior. Big data analytics allow investigators to examine content from a large number of tweets, and to run online experiments to better understand individual behavior.

For example, Emory University psychologists discovered individuals who tend to think further into the future are more likely to invest money and to avoid risks. They made this determination by conducting text analyses of nearly 40,000 Twitter users, and then performing online experiments of the behavior of people who provided their Twitter handles.

The research appears in the journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers also found an association between longer future-sightedness and less risky decision-making at a U.S. state population level. “Twitter is like a microscope for psychologists,” says co-author Phillip Wolff.

“Naturalistic data mined from tweets appears to give insights not just into tweeters’ thoughts at a particular time, but into a relatively stable cognitive process. Using social media and big-data analytical tools opens up a new paradigm in the way we study human behavior.”

Co-author Robert Thorstad, an Emory Ph.D. candidate came up with the idea for the research, worked on the design and analyses, and conducted the experiments.

“I’m fascinated by how peoples’ everyday behavior can give away a lot of information about their psychology,” Thorstad says.

“Much of our work was automated, so we were able to analyze millions of Tweets from thousands of individuals’ day-to-day lives.”

The future-sightedness found in individuals’ tweets was short, usually just a few days, which differs from prior research suggesting future sightedness on the order of years.

“One possible interpretation is that the difference is due to a feature of social media,” Wolff says. Another possible reason, he adds, is that prior studies explicitly asked individuals how far they thought into the future while the PNAS paper used the imbedded measures of previous tweets.

While the relationship between future-sightedness and decision-making may seem obvious, the researchers note that previous findings on the subject have not been consistent. However, these inconsistencies may be due to factors such as observer bias in a laboratory setting and small sample sizes.

The PNAS paper used a variety of methods (such as the Stanford CoreNLP natural language processing toolkit and SUTime, a rule-based temporal tagger built on regular expression patterns) to automatically analyze Twitter text trails previously left by individual subjects.

Experimental data was gathered using the Amazon crowdsourcing tool Mechanical Turk, a web site where individuals can complete psychology experiments and other internet-based tasks. Participants in the Mechanical Turk experiments were asked to supply their Twitter handles.

In one experiment for the PNAS paper, Mechanical Turk participants answered a classic delay discounting question, such as: Would you prefer $60 today or $100 in six months?

The participants’ Tweets were also analyzed. Future orientation was measured by the tendency of participants to tweet about the future compared to the past. Future-sightedness was measured based on how often tweets referred to the future, and how far into the future.

The results showed that future orientation was not associated with investment behavior, but that individuals with far future-sightedness were more likely to choose to wait for future rewards than those with near future-sightedness.

This suggests that investment behavior depends on how far individuals think into the future and not their tendency to think about the future in general.

A second Mechanical Turk experiment used a digital Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART). In this exercise, participants’ could earn real money every time they inflated a balloon, but each inflation could lead to the balloon popping, resulting in no money earned for that trial.

If participants stopped inflating before the balloon popped, they could bank the money that they have earned and proceed to the next trial.

The BART participants’ tweets were also analyzed. The results showed that those with longer future-sightedness were less likely to take the risk of fully inflating the balloon.

Another study in the PNAS paper focused on Twitter users whose profiles tied them to a particular state. About eight million of their tweets were analyzed for future-sightedness.

The researchers measured a state’s risk-taking behaviors at the population level using the proxy of publicly available statistics, such as seat-belt compliance rates, drunken driving rates, and teen-aged pregnancy rates. The results showed that shorter future-sightedness measures for tweets from individual states correlated closely to higher rates of risky behaviors, in a pattern similar to the results of the individual experimental studies.

To measure a state’s investment behavior, the researchers used state statistics for spending on state parks, pre-kindergarten education, highways, and per-pupil education. The researchers found that states that invested more in these areas were associated with tweets from individuals with longer future-sightedness, but not at a statistically significant level.

The researchers controlled for state demographics such as political orientation, per capita income, household income, and GDP. “We found that, while demographics are important, they couldn’t explain away the effects of future-thinking,” Wolff says.

The estimated 21 percent of American adults who use Twitter tend to be younger and more technologically literate than the general population, Thorstad concedes. But he adds that Twitter’s demographics are not that far off from the general population in terms of gender, economic status and education levels. And the percentages of Twitter users living in rural, urban, and suburban areas are virtually the same.

“Twitter can provide a much broader participant pool than many psychology experiments that primarily use undergraduates as subjects,” Thorstad notes. “Big-data methods may ultimately improve generalizability for psychology results.”

“Through social media, we’re amassing huge amounts of data on ourselves, behaviorally and over time, that is leaving behind a kind of digital phenotype,” Wolff adds.

“We’re now in an age where we have big-data analytical tools that can extract information to tell us something indirectly about an individual’s cognitive life, and to predict what an individual might do in the future.”

Source: Emory Health Sciences

Psych Central | Twitter used as research tool for America’s psyche

How data will shape the future of salon ownership

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Benn Konsynski, professor of information systems and operations management at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, is interviewed.

Stacey Soble | April 1, 2018 | 10:11 AM
Change is definitely on the horizon for salon and spa owners and managers, and while that will make things different, it can also make them very productive, says Benn Konsynski, Ph.D., professor of information systems and operations management at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. Konsynski will be the mainstage speaker kicking off the second annual Data-Driven Salon Summit, hosted by Salon Today and Zeezor in Atlanta, Georgia, May 20-22, 2018 at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast.Salon Today’s Stacey Soble recently had the opportunity to sit down with Konsynski to find out how technology and data will be shaping the landscape for salons and spas:Salon Today: “You seem particularly excited about the future of business in light of technological changes, why is today so different?”Dr. Konsysnski: “Data is more important than ever, and we’ve never had a richer opportunity to collect information in an inexpensive way and in a continuous and timely fashion, and which is actionable at the time we capture it. The biggest factor that is changing is our ability to use data to deal with business issues in real time, and not later, after analysis. That means data now offers a continuous audit and control mechanism that is very different than just a few years ago.“For example, salon owners can monitor stylists’ activities and assist them in ways they never could in the past and they can do it from home, another office or if they’re in an additional location. It’s like having a virtual digital twin in each salon location. If there is an issue trending or a situation, your digital twin can bring it to your attention.”

SALON TODAY: How does this change the lives of entrepreneurs?

Dr. Konsynski: “It means you can be there when you can’t be there, which eliminates guilt in folks who open a salon and feel the business is out of control when they are not there. Now, they can contain and sustain activities in the salon without their physical presence. Salon owners can now be part of a new social arrangement and engagement and more in tune with the needs of their stylists and the needs of their clients. Think of it as a new way of partnering between the stylist, the client and the salon.”

SALON TODAY: How will this help drive profitability?

Dr. Konsynski: “With alerts and alarms tied to data, it amplifies signals to owners so they can take preventative action before a trend becomes an issue–whether you’re responding to a stylist’s bad habit, reacting to a client demand or managing an issue with inventory. Data can help you predict and prepare for a situation before it negatively impacts the bottom line.

“The concept of a digital twin is an area that is drastically changing the landscape in the industrial world. Whether an owner is managing a factory or a remote workforce, they don’t have to feel detached. They are integrated. For a salon, this means that you could manage a multi-location salon and create a whole new relationship across your portfolio of salons.

“I used to do work with Mrs. Fields Cookies, and the founder Debbi Fields once said to me, ‘I want to run 500 stores like I used to run three. It was fun when I ran three.’ Notice she didn’t say one, but three. There’s an aspiration to her sense of experience. She wanted to scale up the business, but be able to continue to manage its culture.

“With raw observation, measurements and sensors, an owner can have a connection with each individual location. Your digital twin can help you grow the size of your operation with less risk. Before, you’d have to hire a manager for each location that you absolutely trusted and rely on them to maintain consistency and the culture of the rest of the operation—and that could be problematic as there can be a high rate of turnover with managers.”

SALON TODAY: How will this impact a salon’s relationship with its clientele?

Dr. Konsynski: “You have to start thinking about how you can grow faster in the 21th century by embracing change instead of just speeding up the mess of 20th century practices. Lots of business owners have a ‘Whack-A-Mole’ solution to their problem sets. But when we take on modern practices, we can grow in an entirely new fashion than ever before. For example, 10 years ago you would never have told your kid to get in the car with a stranger, but now if your teen needs to go somewhere you tell them to call Uber. With informations systems, complexity doesn’t matter—the impossible is doable today.

“We are making a digital transition in the 21st century. There’s never been a better opportunity to continuously touch our customers. And, you don’t need a complicated survey to do that, just a simple, imaginative comment through an app or chatbot. Artificial intelligence and analysis can understand a community of relationships. For example, Millennials hate calling someone else, and they hate having to go to your website and browse your menu trying to find what they are looking for. They are going to engage with companies that come to where they hang out, whether that’s Instagram, What’s App?, or Skype, and offer them things that match their needs. An example is the weather app Poncho, which knows where a user is located and has a chatbot that talks to them about their needs in regards to weather each day. I teach a class called ‘Appcology’ and 40 percent of my students are developing apps that have chatbots—so it’s a very real possibility for a salon.”

To find out more or to buy a ticket, Data-Driven Salon Summit. 

Originally posted on Salon Today: Today: