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Measure & analyse

Measure & analyse

How can we improve current measures of well-being and social attitudes by using "Big Data"? How do social preferences relate to other cognitive and social skills? What is the role of social norms or individual characteristics in social preferences? What is the relationship between social preferences and well-being?

SOWELL has produced unprecedented empirical and theoretical analysis of well-being and social preferences based on behavioural measures carried out on a large scale, thanks to the Big Data revolution.


One of the key impacts of Web 2.0 has been the profound change in the traceability of social relations embedded in big datascapes, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter or the Blogosphere. The web has become one of the most important ways for people to meet and talk about their own lives. As a result, this tool offers an unprecedented opportunity to expand the scope of traditional social surveys and measure social preferences in real-world economic environments.

(credit AzriSuratmin –
(credit AzriSuratmin –

First, it allows us to test theories by building upon observational data (observed behaviours reveal preferences) instead of subjective opinions reported by people. Second, Big Data make it possible to elicit economic and social attitudes continuously, precisely and methodically for very large samples at a very detailed level. Lastly, Big Data represent a unique opportunity to overcome the limitations of traditional research methods and implement experimental economics on the ground.


Using Big Data, large scale behavioural barometers, and extensive panel datasets, it becomes possible to analyse the theoretical and empirical underpinnings of social preferences and their relationship to well-being.

The theory and empirics of decision making have undergone a real revolution over the past decades in the economic literature. One of the main conclusions has been that individuals make choices that are not simply based on a comparison of costs and benefits. These can be considered “problems of cognition” and include individuals’ attention, perception, evaluation, interpretation, classification, etc. In evaluating an action, the individual relies on mental short-cuts based on innate cognitive structures, on interpretative frameworks arising out of life histories, or on social context and social norms. The aim of the research is to understand how these problems of cognition may have long-term consequences.

It is also important to examine how individual experiences determine social preferences. By looking at the totality of individual experience, it is hoped to provide a more comprehensive analysis of the origins of social behaviour. At the heart of such an analysis is the life history hypothesis, which posits that the timing and duration of key events in an organism’s life are determined in part by natural selection to produce the greatest possible number of surviving offspring. We will test this theory using the large-scale social behavioural barometer that has already been developed in this project as well as other extended panel data sources.

The last aspect of this section is the study of how the social context and social norms shape cooperation and social preferences. Understanding the role of social norms and inequalities in cooperation and social preferences is the key to understanding the real consent of individuals to pay taxes, demand redistribution, cast ballots at election time, and so on and so forth.


[Analyse] Social Norms

The aim of this project is to study how social context and social norms shape cooperation and social preferences.

[Analyse] Micro-foundations of Social Preferences

The research carried out in this project aims to identify a causal link between one's life experience and one's preference for domination versus cooperation.

[Analyse] Social cognition

This project aims to understand the social cognition foundations of social preferences as they pertain specifically to cooperative behaviour.

[Measure] TrustLab

TrustLab relies on a web platform for experimental economics designed to document and analyze the distribution of social preferences and trust in large samples of populations.

[Measure] Big Data & Well-Being

This line of research reinterprets happiness theories using behavioural indicators of well-being based on Big Data.

[Measure] Social preferences and the organization of production

This project will focus on the study of collaborative platforms in order to elicit and analyse the social preferences within various organizations and firms.