October 7, 2013
A group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study through which they carefully analyzed the Facebook statuses of 75,000 volunteers. The volunteers all took a personality questionnaire and made their Facebook posts available to researchers who searched for linguistic patterns. In analyzing the Facebook posts, researchers were able to determine a surprising amount of information about each individual.
“Drawing from more than 700 million words, phrases, and topics, the researchers built computer models that predicted the individuals’ age, gender, and their responses on the personality questionnaires with surprising accuracy,” explains Business Insider.
The open vocabulary approach was equally predictive, sometimes even more predictive, than traditional approaches of psychologists using a predetermined set of words.
The Penn researchers also created word clouds that “provide an unprecedented window into the psychological world of people with a given trait,” graduate student Johannes Eichstaedt, who worked on the project, said in a press release. “Many things seem obvious after the fact and each item makes sense, but would you have thought of them all, or even most of them?”
Using word clouds, researchers were able to have greater insight into the correlation between words and personality traits.
For example, researchers found that people who reference sports in their posts tend to be more emotionally stable. Researcher Lyle Ungar said this suggests that “we should explore the possibility that neurotic individuals would become more emotionally stable if they played more sports.”
Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center, said that the new approach is efficacious, stating: “When I ask myself, ‘What’s it like to be an extrovert?’ ‘What’s it like to be a teenage girl?’ ‘What’s it like to be schizophrenic or neurotic?’ or ‘What’s it like to be 70 years old?’ these word clouds come much closer to the heart of the matter than do all the questionnaires in existence.”
In the future, instead of asking people to complete surveys, people could simply anonymously submit their Twitter and Facebook feeds.
“Researchers have studied these personality traits for many decades theoretically,” Eichstaedt said, “but now they have a simple window into how they shape modern lives in the age of Facebook.”