No laboratory needed: Person Project mines social science data with secure online activities

Understanding the human psyche is complex, for ordinary people and scientists alike. Now, researchers at Princeton University have created a new tool for social scientists to study human psychology through a series of fun, thought-provoking activities.

Launched this month, the Person Project website and smartphone app (available for both iPhone and Android) are designed to encrypt and store securely collected data from users who participate in these activities, providing an online platform for researchers to use in academic studies.

“The goal of this project is to connect people to psychological research and give curious users the opportunity to learn a little about themselves while helping us advance social science,” said Stacey Sinclair, co-principal investigator and professor of psychology and public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Research on human behavior has traditionally involved laboratory research focused on human experiences. The idea for the Person Project was motivated by the way “advances in the technologies people use every day – from web browsers to smartphones – offer psychologists opportunities to study psychological phenomena in context and in real-time, and at a larger scale than ever before,” Sinclair said.

“The Person Project hopes to involve people from all walks of life, all over the world, to help make our science stronger and more universal,” said Diana Tamir, co-principal investigator and assistant professor of psychology. “Social science research is all about what people think, how they perceive their reality, their behavior and what they feel.”

The activities featured on the Person Project platform focus on issues such as one’s motivational style and the need to belong. It also contains activities that reveal your underlying preference for a 2020 presidential candidate and encourage you to set good goals and stick to them over time.

“For example, the ‘need to belong’ survey uses a validated psychological measure of belonging to help a user learn about their personal needs for belongingness in social settings,” said co-investigator Nickolas Jones, a postdoctoral research associate in psychology. “Data from the survey may be used in conjunction with results from other surveys and experiments on the platform to understand, for example, how people with different belongingness needs perceive the level of social support they have in their lives.”

After each activity is completed, the Person Project offers the user personalized results and feedback. If a user creates an account, this information will be saved and stored on a personal dashboard. Users can also share results with family and friends on social media. In addition, the user’s dashboard allows them to compare their results with others. Participants are also provided with resources to learn more about the activities they completed.

“We know that people are curious about themselves, and we want to foster that curiosity by providing them with interesting study options so they can maximize their self-learning in areas of life that matter to them,” Tamir said. “We’ve tried to build an easy-to-use system that is intuitive and seamless.”

The Person Project platform offers a secure, password-protected experience. The personalized data collected from activities are not shared with any third party and users are not able to personally identify others’ results.

The Person Project team plans to expand in the future, featuring new and informative activities users can engage with to learn more about themselves while helping to advance social research with meaningful insights into human behavior in daily life.

The project was funded by the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund.

Connect with the Person Project online or download the smartphone app for iPhone and Android.

/Public Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.