**** PLEASE NOTE **** This is NOT a political post, and political comments will NOT be tolerated.
One of the many problems associated with doing scientific studies on the psychology of people is that you have to ask them how they are feeling and what they are thinking. The problem, of course, is aptly pointed out by fictional character Dr. Gregory House: “Everbody lies.” How can scientists determine whether or not people are actually telling the truth in these studies? There are some techniques. For example, if the study is based on a survey, the survey can ask the same question in many different ways, and a model can compare a person’s answers to those slightly-different questions to see if there is a consistent pattern. However, I recently ran across a study that did something radically different, and I found it very interesting.
The scientists noted that many people said the results of the 2016 presidential election here in the U.S. caused them a great deal of stress and anxiety. As the authors of the study put it:
One therapist, Inger Burnett-Zeigler, wrote in Time, “In the weeks since the election, many of my patients have come to therapy with anxiety, fear, and worry…It’s obvious to me that this highly contested election is already having real mental health consequences.”…A full 72% of Democrats reported that the presidential election outcome was “a significant source of stress,” as compared to 26% of Republicans. (references removed for clarity)
The researchers wanted to see if this was really the case, so they decided to do something interesting: They studied how people searched the internet after the election. After all, in a survey, you are either responding to a person or filling out a form that you know a person will read. The fact that you know someone else is going to evaluate your responses might lead you to say things that aren’t really true, so as to look better to that person or to make a point. However, your internet searches are (supposedly, not really) private, so people might be more “honest” with Google (or in this case, Bing) than they are with people. As a result, if you really want to know how people are feeling, look at their internet searches.