Wikipedia could have been used as early warning signs of stock market movements, according to a new study. 

Researchers led by Dr Suzy Moat, senior research fellow at Warwick Business School, found that changes in how often financially related pages were viewed on Wikipedia could have been linked to subsequent movements of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. 

Their historic analysis detected increases in views of financially related Wikipedia pages before stock market falls. 

Moat said the results provide evidence that online data may allow us to gain a new understanding of the early stages of decision making. “[It gives] an insight into how people gather information before they decide to take action in the real world,” she said. 

Wikipedia is a popular online encyclopaedia that all internet users can view and edit. Crucially, Wikipedia does not only make its contents freely available, but also data on how often people view and edit its pages. 

The researchers looked at how often pages describing companies listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, such as Procter & Gamble, Bank of America, and The Walt Disney Company, were viewed between December 2007 and April 2012. 

They found that a simple trading strategy based on changes in the frequency of views would have led to significant profits of up to 141%. 

Similarly, a strategy based on views of 285 pages relating to general financial topics, such as macroeconomics, capital and wealth, would have also generated profits of up to 297%.

A buy and hold strategy during this period would have led to only a 3% profit. 

“We know that humans are more concerned about losing £5 than they are about missing an opportunity to gain £5,” Moat said. “If investors spend more time and effort gathering information before making what they consider to be a bigger decision, then we might expect to see people looking for more financial information before stocks are sold at lower prices, in line with our results.”

The research team had previously found links between Google searches and stock market movements.