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  • Matt Baldwin

Culture and Google Searches

In a recent paper I show that tight states (those with strong norms and rules) and collectivist states (those that tend to have strong group relations) search for more social comparison related emotions on Google. In other words, tight and collectivist states might be like that jealous partner from that one meme.

Note: I do not endorse infidelity, objectification, or the stereotypes portrayed in this meme.

If you want to find where your state is in this mix, you can check out the interactive map on my other blog post. Anyway, I digress.


Another cool thing I found in this research was that Google searches across the USA tended to match the culture of the states they came from even beyond social comparison emotions. Take tightness for example: According to the theory, we'd expect tighter states to search for topics related to rules, punishments, and social norms. Google Correlate is pretty cool because you can upload your own data...so I fed it each state's tightness-looseness score and looked at what kinds of searches are related to those scores.

These are just the top 10 searches that correlate with tightness-looseness across states. See any patterns? We've got searches related to rules and punishments (like religion) and searches for social norms (like Yeti brand coolers and BBQ). What about the stuff related to health like food and blood pressure? Well it turns out, cultural tightness seems to show up in groups of people or areas where there is a good amount of risk and threat to life, like extreme weather, foreign invasion, and yes, disease. Check out this map of heart disease related deaths across the USA:

And now the map of tightness-looseness in the USA:


See the similarities? What I think is neat about all this is that we can use data to triangulate on real patterns of human behavior--we can organize states by how strongly the focus on rules and norms, which can be connected to real-life health outcomes, and even shows up in the regular ways people use Google.

I'll leave you with a table of the top 10 Google searches that are related positively and negatively to both tightness and collectivism in the USA. Cool how social science do dat.