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Crowdsourcing: Improving Psychology Research?

Can crowdsourcing speed up data collection and get the public more involved?

Crowdsourcing is the attainment of information from the general public via the Internet in order to solve a challenge or dilemma. For example, in March 2014, the website Tomnod crowdsourced satellite images online to see if anyone in the general public could find oil or wreckage from Malaysian Airlines flight 370.

Granted, crowdsourcing goes way back—so far back, that it wasn't even called crowdsourcing back then. The term "crowdsourcing" was first used by Wired magazine in 2005 (Safire, 2009). However, for centuries, contests have been sponsored by governments and other professional bodies, asking the general public to solve puzzles or provide solutions to dilemmas in exchange for a prize or recognition. So they were doing crowdsourcing before it was cool.

Crowdsourcing has several advantages in psychological research:

  • Less expensive than traditional research
  • Data collected from a wider range of the population
  • Quicker data collection

A study by Ranard, et al. (2014) found that health-related studies used four different types of crowdsourcing tasks:

  • Problem-solving
  • Data processing
  • Surveillance/monitoring
  • Surveying

However, only 5% of the studies reported age, sex, and culture demographics. Thirty-three percent of the studies reported at least one of those demographics (Raynard, et al. 2014).

So while crowdsourcing is the wave of the future in psychological studies, some work needs to be done to collect clear demographic information. And it's tricky verifying demographic information when someone is completing a task online. But in the meantime, crowdsourcing can open up psychological research to more people. And isn't that our goal, to make our research accessible to as many people as possible?


Ranard, et al. (2013). Crowdsourcing — harnessing the masses to advance health and medicine, a systematic review. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 29(1):187-203.

Safire, W. (February 5, 2009). "On Language". New York Times Magazine.

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