If you think your friend might be a narcissist, investigating their Facebook status updates could reveal the truth.
According to a new study published online in October in the journal Personality And Individual Differences, researchers can detect the presence of the so-called “Dark Triad” of psychological traits simply by analysing the wording of a person’s Facebook status updates.
The Dark Triad is a group of three personality traits — psychopathy, narcissism, and manipulativeness — that psychologists consider to be undesirable and socially damaging.
The wealth of data provided by Facebook users has opened the door to new way of analysing personality for researchers.
“Facebook has revolutionised how people interact on the Internet, and this offers a unique opportunity for psychological research,” study researcher Danilo Garcia, of Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden, said in a press release.
To conduct the study, the researchers administered personality tests to just over 300 Americans and then had them provide their fifteen most recent Facebook status updates.
The personality test had subjects answer questions that tested specific personality traits, most notably how outgoing the participants were, how neurotic they were, and testing for the Dark Triad of personality.
After receiving the results of the personality test, the scientists analysed the text of the subjects status updates based upon an algorithm that measures the significance of specific words, designed by Lund University’s Sverker Sikström. The status results were combined with basic information about the user’s profile, such as the frequency of status updates and the number of Facebook friends.
When it came to narcissism and psychopathy, the researchers found a strong correlation between what the Facebook status update analysis predicted and what the personality tests suggested.
“[The study] suggests that behaviour such as self promotion, emotional coldness, duplicity and aggressiveness is expressed when individuals broadcast current states or make written statements in Facebook,” Garcia said in an audio presentation of the study.
People who tested positive for psychopathy tended to post “negatively charged or odd formulations more often,” including posts that mentioned explicit violent or sexual content, said Garcia.
Meanwhile, those with narcissistic traits tended to post frequently about their own good characteristics as acts of self-promotion.
Missing personality traits
What was perhaps most interesting about the study was what it failed to do. The researchers found that Facebook updates were incapable of predicting positive traits. They could only find a link between personality and Facebook status updates when it came to darker personality traits.
Across the aisle from the Dark Triad, there’s a group of positive traits called the Big Five which include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Surprisingly, they weren’t able to link the presence of these traits in the personality tests to status updates.
The researchers have yet to come up with a definitive reason for why this is, but they think it might have something to do with the way that Facebook serves as a platform for social competition.
“The competition for attention could actually end up getting people to reveal more of their dark side,” Sikstrom told The Local.
Big Data Meets Psychology
This builds off an earlier study by researchers at the University Of Pennsylvania, released Sept. 25 in PLoS ONE. Those researchers used a different algorithm that allowed them to successfully predict gender, age, and even some of the Big Five personality traits.
Their sample was much larger — 75,000 volunteers. They also studied the language used and arranged their data into some pretty cool word clouds.
Its success is largely being credited to using an “open vocabulary approach” that analyses all words as opposed to looking for specific terms. However, the study did not attempt to predict Dark Triad traits.
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