Monday, 9 August 2010

Our Online Personalities

The study of personality is one of the most researched areas of psychology, and also one of the most lucrative. Unfortunately, I think it is one of the most flawed.

However, it seems natural that, as the internet has developed as a means for humans to express themselves, the personality psychology of 'cyberspace' would grow as an interesting field of study. Indeed, I have recently come across these two eye-catching studies.

The first investigated the bias or 'skew' in the About Me section on the Facebook profiles of the study participants.

Based on their profile information, researchers assessed each of the participants on the "big five" common personality factors - openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness and extroversion. This measure was then compared with actual personality test results, and from assessments made by four close friends.

The profiles derived from Facebook were surprisingly accurate, with the exception of neuroticism, which is a measure of emotional instability.

Apparently, people don't lie about themselves on Facebook..

The second study investigated the "big five" personalities of bloggers (ha!). The results indicate that people who are high in openness, and women who are high in neuroticism, are more likely to be bloggers.

So, according to this research, you might be able to get a pretty accurate measure of what my personality is like from my Facebook profile and the fact that I have a blog. 

But you've got no idea how neurotic I really am.

Thankfully, I don't believe in personality.


I don't believe in personality for three reasons:

I basically believe that personality 'factors' are an error of perception that are based in the language and metaphors we're used to framing ourselves in.

I think our behaviour has a passing shape that is most significantly determined by the situation we're currently in.

The "big five" theory is based in the fundamental lexical hypothesis, which is an unfalsifiable and speculative hypothesis that lacks the evidence it needs to justify its hype.

Don't even get me started on the assumption that there is something in the brain that "is" personality.

Photo Courtesy Of: Flickr @sitmonkey


  1. Im highly neurotic but don't have a blog.....what does that make me? The anomaly? Lazy? I suspect the latter.

  2. Very interesting!

    Agree in particular with your objection to the assumption that 'there is something in the brain that is personality'.

    Personality factors are in my view a convenient way of categorizing lots and lots of items of behaviour and emotion into larger groupings so as to make them manageable to study. They can be useful, so long as one recognizes that this is all that they are.

  3. I blogged about this. Well, I was just larking around really, because I also doubt the validity of so-called personality traits. (don't get me started on the Briggs Myers stuff.)

    Doesn't stop me from taking tests and endless navel gazing though. All in good fun.

    Nice to come across your blog!