Microsoft researchers have revealed how people changed their aspirations during the pandemic when expression of basic needs increased “exponentially” while higher-level aspirations declined.
Using data from Microsoft search engine Bing, the team developed a framework to characterise the changes in people’s physiological, socioeconomic, and psychological needs during the pandemic, reports VentureBeat.
The researchers discovered the changing patterns of human needs after applying the framework to over 35 billion Bing web searches spanning roughly 36,000 ZIP codes in the US.
The framework tagged searches with categories like self-actualization needs, cognitive needs, social/emotional needs, safety needs and physiological needs.
About 9.1 per cent of the search queries — 3.2 billion searches — matched at least one of the needs categories.
“Indicators of social-economic instabilities like searches for ‘unemployment site visits’ and ‘food assistance’ still haven’t returned to their baseline levels,” according to the researchers, nor have searches reflecting needs to satisfy lockdown-induced isolation.
The researchers found that queries about educational degrees, job searches, job search sites, and housing dipped 34 per cent and haven’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
They noticed heightened physiological and safety needs during the first four weeks of the pandemic.
Toilet paper purchases saw a 127 times uptick and stimulus-related searches (including terms like ‘loan forgiveness’) reached 287 times the baseline, a level that they sustained at least through July.
“As regions prepare recovery efforts from the current pandemic or make plans for future disruptions, the methodology we describe can be harnessed to monitor or anticipate a spectrum of needs at various geotemporal granularities,” Microsoft researchers said.
The framework could be used to quantify how much social and economic distress a community might be able to endure and examine disparities in the impacts of policies on highly vulnerable populations.