OkCupid defends experimenting on humans

OkCupid defends human experiments

Yesterday in a blog post, one of the founders of OkCupid, Christian Rudder defended the recent experiments Facebook performed to influence human emotions, with Rudder saying that such experiments should be expected by any person who uses the internet.

"Guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you're the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That's how websites work."

This follows the scandal in which Facebook became involved last month, after it was revealed the social media site conducted an experiment on 689,000 users.

During Facebook's experiment, the researchers monitored whether exposure to certain emotional words affected the user's posting habits. The results have shown it does.

Emotional Experiments: influencing how we react

In the field of psychology, emotional experimentation on humans has a brief yet fertile history, having been an object of study for just over a century.

In one such experiment in 1920, the psychologist John B Watson undertook a study on children to find out more about the emotion of fear.

In a classical act of conditioning, Watson used the sound from a steel bar to condition a child, known as little Albert. While in a room at play with a small animal, little Albert would hear and be scared by the sound, with which he soon began to associate the sight of the animal, which would then make him feel afraid.

In June this year, MacEwan University researchers followed up the research. They believe they have found Albert's niece, who described him as a "rather easy-going individual who lived a long and satisfying life" but who "disliked animals, especially dogs".

Is it ok for OkCupid?

As its justification the blog post on OkCupid, titled We Experiment on Human Beings, points to the value of the information for improving websites. Rudder has said: "Most ideas are bad. Even good ideas could be better. Experiments are how you sort all this out".

In one experiment the site tested what would happen if it changed compatibility scores between potential daters. Some who were meant to have high compatibility were shown as low; conversely others who should have been low were shown as high.

OkCupid says the results show the change did have an effect upon the outcome: that the number of conversations between daters was influenced by the compatibility score - even when it wasn't the 'truth'.

In concluding remarks about this experiment, Rudder said: "When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other."

Adrian Mursec, head of development at theEword said: "Experiments on these kinds of things are arguably very beneficial, as the knowledge we gain from them accumulates over time. But where is the line? And has Facebook or OkCupid crossed it?"

SHARE THIS STORY | |