A web-based laboratory for computational social science A web-based laboratory for computational social science

Abstract

Experimentation provides one of the foundational pillars for understanding human behavior. The study of human behavior in the laboratory has a long and impressive history, largely centered in psychology and economics, and increasingly applied to other disciplines, such as sociology and political science. To support this research, many universities have dedicated shared laboratory space that allows the spreading of the benefits of a physical lab among the community of experimental scholars. We argue that experimental research should undergo a dramatic transformation from being based in physical laboratories centered in research universities. Toward this end, we have built a web-based analog of a university’s shared laboratory for behavioral research. Our platform is an experimental testbed that will enable researchers to quickly design and deploy behavioral experiments. Our platform is web-based, allowing subjects to participate in studies anywhere they can connect to the Internet, greatly increasing the flexibility of the system, and decreasing the organizational complexity. We plan to conduct very large experiments, such as those with groups of size 100 or more individuals interacting synchronously, without needing access to large computer clusters. Our platform is designed to be flexible and easily customizable, enabling researchers to use our platform to design and deploy a wide range of experiments, without worrying about complex implementation details. Subjects can exchange messages and instantly see decisions being made by their neighbors. Our framework supports detailed, real-time tracking of the evolution of each collective decision-making experiment.