May 27, 2015

"Openness" and Facebook as a personality diagnostic

An academic report has just come out about who posts what on Facebook. The sample is, regrettably, a Mechanical Turk one, so the findings are of unknown generalizability to any population. They may however represent brighter people fairly well.

The finding that caught my eye was "Openness is positively associated with updating about intellectual topics".  We also read that "people who are high in openness tend to be creative, intellectual, and curious".

I should mention at this point that there is a large psychological literature dating back to at least 1950 in which Leftists congratulate themselves for having just such traits.  And, conversely, they claim, but never clearly prove, that conservatives are the opposite of that.  According to conventional wisdom in political psychology, we conservatives are closed-minded and rigid.  From their behavior, I would have thought that that cap fitted Leftists a lot better but I will leave that aside for the moment.  They are certainly not open to evidence and argument on things like global warming.

I have written a great deal on why the conventional psychological  characterization is false, with my most recent shot in that direction here.

The basic fault in the Leftist research on the topic is that there is a great deal of "spin" in how they refer to things.  To take the simplest example, you would think that a desire for order would be a generally good thing.  What scientists do, after all, is search for order in the phenomena of nature.  So what do you do when you find that conservatives are high on a desire for order?  You relabel it as "intolerance of ambiguity".  I kid you not.  Something good instantly becomes something bad. It's typical Leftist "proof" -- proof that proves nothing.  Anyway, my various academic papers shooting down the nonsense are accessible here

So what pleased me was purely something personal.  What I put up on Facebook is precisely what "open" people put up -- posts on scientific and political matters.  I come out as the opposite of what Leftists think a conservative is.

Whether conservatives generally post mostly that way is of course unknown but could be of interest to study.  When personality scores (based on how people describe themselves) correlate with actual behaviour (as in what you use Facebook for) that does add some confidence that one is studying something real.

Journal abstract below but the whole article is publicly accessible at the same link

The Big Five, self-esteem, and narcissism as predictors of the topics people write about in Facebook status updates

Tara C. Marshall et al.


Status updates are one of the most popular features of Facebook, but few studies have examined the traits and motives that influence the topics that people choose to update about. In this study, 555 Facebook users completed measures of the Big Five, self-esteem, narcissism, motives for using Facebook, and frequency of updating about a range of topics.

Results revealed that extraverts more frequently updated about their social activities and everyday life, which was motivated by their use of Facebook to communicate and connect with others.

People high in openness were more likely to update about intellectual topics, consistent with their use of Facebook for sharing information.

Participants who were low in self-esteem were more likely to update about romantic partners, whereas those who were high in conscientiousness were more likely to update about their children.

Narcissists’ use of Facebook for attention-seeking and validation explained their greater likelihood of updating about their accomplishments and their diet and exercise routine. Furthermore, narcissists’ tendency to update about their accomplishments explained the greater number of likes and comments that they reported receiving to their updates.

Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 85, October 2015, Pages 35–40

Go to John Ray's Main academic menu
Go to Menu of longer writings
Go to John Ray's basic home page
Go to John Ray's pictorial Home Page
Go to Selected pictures from John Ray's blogs