Noah Evers ’18 and ninth grader Gabriel Evers used AI-powered technology to analyze behavioral data.
For the Evers family, learning is a family affair. When Harvard sophomore (and Crossroads alumnus) Noah Evers ’18 wondered how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted human psychology and behavior, he turned to his grandmother—UCLA Distinguished Professor of Psychology Patricia Marks Greenfield—and his brother, Crossroads ninth grader Gabriel Evers. Together, they analyzed social media trends and Google search analytics to test Patricia’s 2009 prediction that “during a period of increasing survival threat and decreasing prosperity, humans will shift toward the psychology and behavior typical of the small‐scale, rural subsistence ecologies in which human beings evolved.”
Sure enough, they observed a significant uptick in searches for phrases like “cooking directions” and “grow plants” and social media references to terms such as “survive” and “death.” The results of their study
were published in the journal Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies and gained national media coverage
. We asked the brothers to talk about the study, how Crossroads prepared them for this endeavor and their future plans. Below are excerpts from that conversation.
How did you go about testing your grandmother’s theory?
Noah: I realized I could measure psychological changes by analyzing the language people were using on the internet, which theoretically we could do on a massive scale. So, I formed a team with my grandmother and brother, and that is what we did. We used AI-powered technology that was constantly retrieving data from millions of social media posts in designing a novel big data methodology that allowed us to make nuanced conclusions from analyzing more behavioral data than any other study of social change published prior. That’s not to say that no-one had used large-scale artificial intelligence technology to monitor words’ behavior across the internet. They had, but primarily for companies to monitor their brands. Nobody in academia thought to use the same technology to predict and measure what people organically talk about within internet communities.
How did Gabriel become involved?
Noah: Gabriel contributed ideas to the experimental design and gave feedback on the final manuscript. Most importantly, he played an essential role in collecting the data and conducting the statistical analyses. We were working with massive amounts of data from Google searches and more than a half-billion words and phrases posted on Twitter, blogs and forums. So, collecting all that data and properly analyzing it was a serious undertaking. Gabriel was not content to analyze the data mindlessly but was always trying to optimize his process, whether that was by devising new ways of more efficiently collecting the data or new techniques to automate the data analysis.
Did the work you did in any of your Crossroads classes help prepare you for this project?
Noah: Crossroads encouraged unorthodox thinking. Most of the work was project-based, so it wasn’t about memorizing formulas or facts or how other people had solved problems. It was all about figuring out how to solve problems from first principles. Nothing was sacred. History was the subjective opinions of the winners. Students saw current events as entirely in the eye of the beholder. Even the math nerds (myself included) in Mike Watson’s Multivariable Calculus course questioned whether traditional mathematics education, in which they excelled, was destructive to the essence of math itself. There was a lot of respect for people who spoke up and defended extremely unconventional and controversial viewpoints. Students became genuinely worried when too many people were thinking similarly. Diversity of thought was considered the purpose of education. This philosophy fostered intense interdisciplinary creativity that resulted in an attitude of “forget how other people have solved problems before me. I’m going to try solving it my way, based on all the unrelated things that I’ve ever learned.” We were encouraged to take the road less traveled.
This out-of-the-box thinking was integral to our study design because we took an unprecedented approach to measuring social change.
Noah, what do you plan to do after graduation?
Noah: I have always been obsessed with the mind. It is the line of best fit that makes the disparate data points of my frequent extracurricular projects (like this study) make sense. Growing up, I loved conducting psychology research and, at 13 started doing research
, which I eventually published, on the subconscious motives that drive Instagram behavior. In ninth grade, I discovered meditation, which I loved because I could learn about my mind firsthand whenever I wanted. My meditation practice expanded to the two hours daily that I do now: breathwork, stream-of-conscious journaling and other self-exploration techniques. I became fascinated with the whole field of cognitive science, spending my free time studying neuroscience, pharmacology and artificial intelligence for fun.
While studying at Harvard, I was under much pressure to perform academically. I became fascinated with the challenge of, “How can I think better?” So, over a two-year period, I began to experiment and research ways to optimize your thinking in the short-term and improve your brain’s cognitive abilities over time. My final breakthrough was creating Flow, a line of enhanced cold brew coffees, which I am beginning to produce and distribute. My career goal, for now, is to bring Flow to everyone who wants to think better.
Gabriel, what do you plan to study in college?
Gabriel: Recently, I have been fascinated by the way the financial market functions and what causes markets to behave the way that they do. The psychology study has helped me dive deeper into questions about what drives human behavior. This study, at its core, examines the effects that a major event like the COVID-19 pandemic can have on individuals, society and the ways in which that society thinks and operates. This same relationship between events and societies is integral to investing as a discipline. Witnessing how an occurrence such as COVID-19 can so greatly change the values of a massive group of people has gotten me interested in the motivations and patterns of human behavior and how that can influence lifestyle as well as financial markets.