There are plenty of habits and common activities that most people engage in when they use social media platforms. For example, in our Facebook lives, checking out what a person has ‘liked’ is practically second nature, but it’s difficult not to draw a very basic personality map of those people. We unconsciously factor in the types of things that people ‘like’ and gradually develop an opinion on the type of person they are. As illogical and irrational as this activity seems at first glance, countless ‘social media enthusiasts’ do this every single day, stalking and trolling Facebook pages and profiles, making judgments about the personalities of others based on what images, companies, posts, and statuses received their thumbs-up blessing.
But is there really any logic behind this seemingly unfair and shallow activity? And if there is some scientific value here, are we really competent enough to judge someone accurately based on their online behavior?
Analyzing someone’s personality is a Herculean task by itself (probably why you can go to university and earn degrees in the study of personality and behavior!). However, the task becomes even more complex when one has to scan through digital activities to access the raw data. In today’s exploding age of social media, we have gone a step further and begun to associate people’s personalities with what they ‘like’ or mark as their ‘favorite’ on various social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter etc.
You may not believe this, but a recently conducted study proves that these inanimate footprints can actually predict the personalities of people better than their own acquaintances, friends or relatives!
Wu Youyou, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in England, and his colleagues published a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January 2015 which looked at how the ‘likes’ on people’s Facebook profiles actually provide great insights into their personality. No less than 86,000 people filled out a 100-question personality questionnaire and provided access to their Facebook profile pages. This questionnaire consisted of questions related to five major personality traits; openness, neuroticism, extraversion, conscientiousness and agreeableness.
The friends and family members of the participants also completed a 10-question questionnaire regarding what they thought about the research subject (their friend/relative).
Better Predictions Than Friends and Family
An average Facebook user has around 227 likes on their page, according to psychologists. Using this information, they devised a computer model that could make predictions based on the ‘likes’ of the subjects. As it turned out, the computer model was quite impressive in its predictive abilities. After studying only 10 likes, the model could assess the subject’s personality better than many of their work colleagues; after 70 likes, the study was able to assess a person better than their roommate or friend, and by analyzing 150 likes, the model could beat siblings (or any other family member). Quite interestingly, it took 300 likes to predict a subject’s personality better than their spouse.
Useful and Sensitive
While this information about people’s personalities can certainly lead to some ground-breaking insights about different facets of life and help in making major life-changing decisions, it can also be quite harmful, as it severely breaches a person’s privacy. On the darker side of this digital intelligence, this data can be used for a host of unsavory activities that could jeopardize someone’s personal life. Privacy concerns are a growing issue, and we must be careful not to sacrifice our privacy for convenience.
Needless to say, these findings could have enormous benefits in the future, but they also hint at some serious cons. Until we have a tool that can control the unscrupulous use of our digital profiles, try to rely more on what you see and experience during real communication with people. Computers may have amazing predictive powers, but they still can’t beat a good chat over a cup of coffee!
- Private Traits And Attributes Are Predictable From Digital Records Of Human Behavior – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
- Computer-Based Personality Judgments Are More Accurate Than Those Made By Humans – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
- Cable News Network (CNN)
- New Scientist