That doesn’t mean one should play the market based on search terms alone, how­ever. The researchers observed a trend, but not all words fit the pat­tern. And if a lot of people were to find out that search terms can be linked to market move­ments (say by reading Sci­en­tific Reports), that signal could become use­less or even be manip­u­lated, says Preis.

But the fact that evi­dence for human deci­sion making can be dis­tilled from an enor­mous, pre­ex­isting data set rather than by con­ducting sur­veys or ques­tion­naires is fas­ci­nating, says Alessandro Vespig­nani of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity in Boston. He and his col­leagues are eager to find tech­niques that use dig­ital traces left by people to pre­dict human behavior. “It’s the mete­o­rology of society,” he says.

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