Can the human heart and psyche be reduced to answers spat out by an algorithm? Can human nature be parsed and predicted, given a sophisticated enough system and vast amounts of information? Increasingly, the answer appears to be a resounding “yes.”

In today’s digital world, individuals generate a previously unthinkable amount of personal information. Between our Internet activities, a penchant for social media, and the preponderance to record everything and anything in human lives… Big Data is now used to predict human behavior more and more.

Some of this information can have far-reaching implications. It is now possible to use social media posts to identify an individual’s political affiliation, even if they do not post anything that is specifically aligned to politics. Political groups can use that information to target the people most likely to vote in their favor, and advertise to them accordingly.

It is also now possible to assess the public’s mood by analyzing posts on Twitter, and then successfully predict fluctuations in the stock market. And search engine analysis can find seasonal patterns in mental health. Not to mention Facebook’s infamous psychological experiment meant to manipulate users’ emotions.

So where does psychology come into play? Researchers oscillate between loving the vast amounts of personal information readily available on the Internet and hating the ethical implications that come with manipulating data on the human heart. For some causes, like marketing and customer satisfaction, it seems like it would be fine to use Big Data to nudge sales upward and stimulate the economy. However, there are more questionable uses for the information — and some that are very creative. It’s only a question of who will come up with the next great use of Big Data about human behavior.


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