How Scientists Can Learn About Human Behavior From Closed-Circuit TV

Anne Nassauer in Smithsonian:

In a 2012 YouTube video of an attempted robbery in California, a strange scene unfolds. Two robbers enter the Circle T Market in Riverbank. One carries a large assault rifle, an AK-47. Upon seeing them, the clerk behind the counter puts his hands up. Yet the elderly store owner finds the weapon absurdly big and casually walks up to the robbers, laughing. His shoulders are relaxed and he points the palms of his hands up as if asking them whether they are serious. Both perpetrators are startled upon seeing the elderly man laughing at them. One runs away, while the one with the AK-47 freezes, is tackled, and is later arrested by police. They had robbed numerous stores before.

Analyzing videos captured on CCTV, mobile phones, or body cameras and uploaded to YouTube now provides first-hand insight into a variety of similar situations. And there are a lot of videos to watch. In 2013, 31 percent of internet users online posted a video to a website. And on YouTube alone, more than 300 hours of video footage are uploaded every minute. Many of these videos capture our behavior at weddings and concerts, protests and revolutions, and tsunamis and earthquakes. Taboos become obsolete as more types of events are uploaded, from birth to live-streamed murder. While some of these developments are contentious, their scientific potential to understand how social life happens can’t be ignored. This ever-expanding cache of recordings may have drastic implications for our understanding of human behavior.

More here.