What 'Big Data' means to Psychological and Brain Sciences
As in many other areas of contemporary life, Big Data has become a powerful tool in psychological and brain sciences, where it is opening up novel forms of investigation into questions both old and new. At PBS, Big Data is especially pervasive. As professor Mary Murphy suggests, more than at most schools, it is making its way into all the sub-fields in PBS, due to the frequent collaboration that is so characteristic of the department. Murphy herself, a social psychologist, has been comparing notes (and methods) with computational neuroscientist Franco Pestilli, and has been generally inspired by workshops and conversations with cognitive scientists and others in the department.
What exactly is Big Data, you might ask? Often used to define the age in which we live, the term is aptly vague. As PBS professor Michael Jones points out in his book, in many ways it is "a moving target," partly on account of the perpetual changes in the volume, velocity and variation of data and the techniques used to manage and interpret it – the three Vs, as they are called. Yet, amidst the change, one observation holds steady: New uses of data are transformative, and are enabling PBS researchers to reimagine their work in powerful and provocative ways.
Jones graphically depicts the change Big Data has brought about in his field: “As cognitive scientists, we are used to developing causal models to explain behavior in carefully controlled laboratory experiments, but rarely explore how those theoretical mechanisms would fare in the natural environment outside of the lab. Now we turn models developed from lab experiments loose in the real world, feeding them large quantities of data, to see if they behave like humans."