Virtual Labs: Transforming the Social, Behavioral, and Information Sciences

Sunday, 15 February 2015: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Room LL21C (San Jose Convention Center)
Disciplines are revolutionized by new technologies. This symposium will introduce recent scientific breakthroughs made possible by the use of online “virtual labs.” For the past half-century, surveys and small-group experiments have been the mainstays of empirical research in the social and behavioral sciences. However, surveys measure retrospective accounts, not real-time behavior, and cannot distinguish the causes of behavioral changes from potentially confounding factors. Behavioral experiments with randomized trials address these two limitations, but dependence on physical copresence has limited participant pools to small numbers of undergraduates. Virtual labs bring together the statistical power of population surveys and the analytical power of small behavioral experiments, allowing scientists for the first time to conduct studies with random assignment for millions of demographically diverse participants. Recent studies have identified peer influences that could not be detected in traditional laboratory settings or disentangled from selection effects using passive observation. These influences include the diffusion of emotions, voting behavior, generosity, stealing, social approval, cooperation, and conflict. Online experiments have also revealed the dependence of cascades on local network structure and the historical authenticity of peer influence. A radically innovative approach uses massively multiplayer online games as a platform for manipulating exposure to stimuli in virtual worlds.
Michael W. Macy, Cornell University
Michael W. Macy, Cornell University
Michael W. Macy, Cornell University
Duncan Watts, Microsoft Research
The Virtual Lab
Sinan Aral, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Identifying Social Influence Using Digital Experiments
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