Internet users from countries with a higher per capita gross
domestic product (GDP) are more likely to search for information about the
future than information
about the past, a quantitative analysis of Google search queries
The findings, published today in the journal Scientific
Reports, suggest there may be a link between online behaviour and real-world
Internet is becoming ever more deeply interwoven into the fabric of global
society”, said Helen Susannah Moat, research associate in UCL’s Department of
Mathematics and one of the authors of the study.
“Our use of
this gigantic information resource is generating huge amounts of data on our
current interests and concerns. We were interested in whether we could find
cross-country differences in basic online search behaviour which could be
linked to real world indicators of socio-economic wellbeing, such as per capita
GDP,” said Moat.
The team of
four behind the results, Tobias Preis, Helen Susannah Moat, H. Eugene Stanley
and Steven R. Bishop, examined Google search queries made
by Internet users in 45 different countries in 2010, to calculate the ratio of
the volume of searches for the coming year (‘2011’) to the volume of searches
for the previous year (‘2009’), which they call the ‘future orientation index’.
We were interested in whether we could find cross-country differences in basic online search behaviour which could be linked to real world indicators of socio-economic wellbeing, such as per capita GDP.
Dr Helen Susannah Moat
research team retrieved search volume data by accessing the Google Trends website,
and analysed more than 45 billion search queries carried out worldwide.
They compared the future orientation index to the per capita
GDP of each country and found a strong tendency for countries in which Google
users enquire more about the future to exhibit a higher GDP.
“We see two leading explanations for this relationship
between search activity and GDP”, said UCL visiting researcher Tobias Preis,
also based at Boston
“Firstly, these findings may reflect international differences in
attention to the future and the past, where a focus on the future supports
economic success. Secondly, these findings may reflect international
differences in the type of information sought online, perhaps due to economic
influences on available Internet infrastructure”, said Preis.
As use of the Internet and other technological systems grow,
increasingly large amounts of data are being generated, the empirical analysis
of which can provide insights into real-world social phenomena, from influenza
epidemics to stock market trading volumes.
Bishop, professor in Mathematics at UCL and one of the authors of this work, is
currently coordinating a large scale European project called FuturICT, to
examine how we can use such data to understand the complex behaviour of
has a particular focus on the new dynamics of our social interactions in the
presence of global technological networking, considering the catastrophes which
can arise, such as the recent financial crisis, but also the opportunities
offered by our increasing connectivity.
project’s ambitious goals have brought together a wide range of European
researchers, building bridges across traditional disciplinary and national
boundaries. The project consortium was recently invited to put together a bid for
10 years of European Commission funding to support a 1 billion Euro research
endeavour in this area.
Media contact: Clare Ryan