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:: By Lydialyle Gibson

:: Photo by Christopher Jacobs

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Investigations ::

Next Generation

Social standards

photo:  next genFor social and behavioral scientists, comparing apples to oranges is essential. Understanding neural, cognitive, and social behaviors can depend on the ability to uncover coherent patterns among disparate data collected at different times and places. Researchers correlate subjects’ videotaped reactions with eye movements, heart rates, electroencephalogram results, and answers to written surveys. “It’s complicated,” says Chicago psychologist Bennett Bertenthal, and technological infrastructure has not kept pace with research needs.

So Bertenthal, pictured right, and a multidisciplinary team of more than a dozen scientists from Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of Illinois at Chicago are working to develop a set of cybertools to help collect and analyze behavioral data. Central to the project—funded with $2 million from the National Science Foundation—is the Social Informatics Data (SID) Grid, a vast and sophisticated warehouse of readings and measurements meant to foster collaboration and to spur the development of standards for gathering and coding data—“which,” Bertenthal says, “right now is not part of the landscape.” In two years, when the SID Grid is complete, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, and neuroscientists can share notes across the globe and use software interfaces like the ones shown above to synthesize numerous forms of streaming data at once.