If you think you’re different on Facebook than you are in real life, you’ve got some explaining to do.
A 2011 study from the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Psychology called “Manifestations of Personality in Online Social Networks: Self-Reported Facebook-Related Behaviors and Observable Profile Information” published in the academic journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that Facebook users are no different online than they are offline. The study also revealed strong connections between real personality and Facebook-related behavior. Social and personality processes, the study says, accurately mirror non-virtual environments.
Looking at the big five personality traits – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism – Professor Samuel D. Gosling and his colleagues found that self-reported personality traits are accurately reflected in online social networks such as Facebook.
In Study 1 (of the two studies covered in this paper), researchers examined personality and self-reported Facebook-related behaviors. The study drew 159 participants from a psychology student study pool at Washington University in St. Louis; 68% were female. Of those who shared their ethnicity, the numbers boiled down to 7% African-American, 18% Asian, 68% white or Caucasian and 6% other. Study subjects were assessed using the Ten Item Personality Inventory and 11-item self-reported Facebook-specific activities. The results below rank by the Big Five personality factors: “O” is for openness, “C” for conscientiousness, “E” for extroversion, “A” for agreeableness and “N” for neuroticism.
Extroverted Facebook users reported the most friends and highest engagement levels. Conscientious types, who are characterized as disciplined, organized and achievement-oriented, reported the least Facebook usage across the board. Overall, extroverts tended to engage more than introverts.
Facebook might not be a real-world coffee shop or a bar, spaces where real-life social interaction occur, but it certainly is a space where extraverts seek out virtual social engagement. This results in a trail of virtual residue, including photos, videos, links, status updates and other traces of a virtual presence.
In the second half of the article, which covers “Study 2: Personality and Observable Information on Facebook Profiles,” researchers examined whether objectively assessed observable information found on Facebook profiles was associated with personality traits. One-hundred and thirty-three people from the University of Texas at Austin received $10 compensation, were entered into a lottery to win $100 in exchange and received partial fulfillment of course requirements if they were already enrolled in Introductory Psychology. The participants signed up via the Web; they did not know that this study was about Facebook. Of participants, 61% were female. Forty-two percent were Asian, Asian-American, Indian or Pacific-Islander; 53% Caucasian or white; 13% Hispanic or Latino/a; 9% black or African-American and 2% other.
The researchers saved the Facebook profiles of participants after they signed up so that participants would not be able to alter anything before the research officially began. After that, nine undergraduate research assistants (five female, four male) rated the personality of the 133 participants based only on their Facebook profiles. If the observers realized that they already knew one of the participants in an offline context, their ratings were not used.
Individual Facebook profiles were coded with eight types of information: number of photos, number of photo albums (some were user-generated wall photos, others thematic), number of words in the free-response “about me” section, number of wall posts, number of groups, number of friends in local network based on region or organization, total number of friends, number of networks (groups linked by a common region or organization).
The researchers found a number of links between observable information on Facebook profiles and the users’ actual personalities.
Extraversion was correlated with the number of friends overall and the number of friends in the local network. These personality types seek out virtual social contact and were more engaged in online social experience than introverts.
The other dimension associated with information was openness, which correlated with number of friends in both local and total networks. The researchers did not discover a correlation between conscientiousness or agreeableness and observable profile information. Openness was expressed through exploring new activities, meeting people and changing the visual scenery. Neuroticism was not easy readable on Facebook; researchers found it difficult to judge by outside observers, especially in relation to more observable traits like extroversion. The study also found that low-conscientious procrastinators used Facebook as a way to avoid doing actual work.
The study determined that online social networks are not an escape from reality, but rather a microcosm of peoples’ larger social worlds and an extension of offline behaviors.