The Great Human Behavior Laboratory
Human behavior is one of the most studied subjects in the history of mankind. Plato gave us a very clear picture of what human behavior is about. He said that it stems from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.
The question is, why are scientists so interested in learning how human behavior works?
The study of human behavior, that is, the study of human desire, emotions and the knowledge people use to determine their actions is key in understanding why someone acts in a particular way or another.
When studied in great depth, human behavior reveals what a single person, a group of people as part of an ethnic group or even a large mass of people will do in certain conditions, which in turn allows scientists or anyone observing them, to predict what they will do next.
This information is a kind of data mining exercise which is now being conducted daily on the world wide web, but the study of human behavior began long ago, before the Internet was born.
The power to predict is the power to control
Think about how much time and resources us humans spend studying other species. Why do humans want to learn why an animal, a plant or a single human cell behaves in a certain way?
In most cases, it is because we want to be able to predict its next move to influence its behavior one way or another.
We can say the same about the study of human behavior. Humans are studied continuously and tirelessly by marketing departments, human behavioralists and scientists with the sole intention of predicting our next step, our next decision.
Most human behavior research is presented and conducted as an attempt to understand society and to develop practices that will improve collaboration, human response to stressful or unfavorable situations and so on, but the study of how humans react to any scenario is also inevitably linked to the study of social manipulation.
In the scientific community, studying human behavior is known as Sociophysics. In this field, scientists can analyze how humans interact in any situation and how their decisions are molded by the environment where they are born, grow up and how they are raised.
Most studies carried out on human behavior are now being reassessed, because of the influence the Internet exerts on our daily lives. For example, the result of a difficult situation may have different outcomes if it is dealt with in real life than if it is faced by a group of people on social media.
It is clear that when faced with difficult situations, people who carry out social media interactions tend to have less understanding of each other, and such interaction usually ends up in a cyber fight. The chance that two people got to agree on something is generally greater if they were in the same place at the same time.
Human interaction studied at the molecular level
Although socially speaking it seems hard to study and make conclusions about human behavior, it is certainly much easier that decades ago, simply because people are willing to give away their information whenever anyone puts a “free” label in front of anything.
The secret of biological complexity lies in the interactions and not so much in the number of genes we have. That is the reason why, today more than ever, it is much easier to analyze human behavior down to the smallest detail.
Billions of people live their lives on the Internet, and in doing so, they feed gigantic databases that are then filtered by algorithms to easily predict what we will do next.
In the case of a material, the electromagnetic connections that its atoms establish are well known. But when humans interact, the system is more complex and not in balance. In this case, social networks and the Internet have been a giant step in understanding human behavior.
Corporate ownership of human data
Google, Facebook or Amazon are advantaged students in the study of human behavior. Their data volumes support them. These companies know how their users relate when making decisions; if they prefer to help or ignore.
The revolution of big data has helped a lot to advance the study of human behavior by large data conglomerates. Today, they are able to validate theories with data, and when such data does not match their expectation, these companies can experiment with users in real time.
It is clear that, for example, in social networks, people seek to reinforce their beliefs, and not find truthful information. It is also clear that, when faced with opposing points of view, users are much more likely to be isolated from what questions their beliefs.
When faced with a scenario that is only a little different from what they think is real, such adversity is enough to trigger a bomb of personal attacks against someone whom they know little about.
According to some scholars, there are still many unanswered questions, because their desire is to open the door to a future simulator that will recreate an entire society. There is no doubt that large technology companies are many steps ahead of studies carried out with small samples, of 100 people or less.
Google, Facebook and Amazon have the data of billions of people around the world, something that no university center that studies sociophysics will ever have.
In the near future, the analysis of data stemmed from human behavior will not be done with real people but avatars in a computer program that will behave like people in real life.
This advance will provide the social sciences with a special power they have not had until now. It will also mean a giant leap for robotics. Robots can be “injected” with information originated in avatars, whose behaviors come from real humans. All this can be a reality in just a decade.
The experiments that they conducted will make it possible to provide computer models with more and more human characteristics so that they are capable of matching a desired result in 80% of cases.
Experiments on human behavior have already moved half the way into the future. They have perhaps overcome the most difficult part.
Ten years ago it was just a dream. Today, when scientists are asked what they have understood better thanks to experiments on human behavior, they laugh and say “we’ve learned a lot from humans!”