Science Times Wrap-up (1.20.15)

You know what they say…”don’t judge a person by their looks, judge them by their Facebook”!
Wait, that doesn’t sound right…

It may not sound correct, but as Douglas Quenqua reports in this week’s Science Times, researchers have indeed developed a computer model that can judge someone’s personality more accurately than friends and family, based solely on their Facebook activity. How did they do it?

Well, it all begins with a nifty Facebook application you may have heard of, called “myPersonality”. Through this application, volunteers are given a 100-item questionnaire that anonymously measures 5 personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. From the total pool of myPersonality users, researchers took a sample of 86,220 volunteers and obtained information about Facebook likes for 90% of them. Then, using complicated math (like always) they created a numerical model (algorithm) that linked Facebook like activity with specific personality traits. Finally, they used this algorithm to predict personality traits for the remaining 10% of their sample of volunteers.

So how well did this algorithm work? To test that, researchers gave friends of the volunteers a shortened, 10-item version of the myPersonality quiz to fill out based upon the volunteer’s personality traits. So who was better at predicting personality? Turns out the computer was. To be specific, the computer was more accurate at predicting personality traits when given access to as few as 70 Facebook likes. In comparison, it took the computer only 10 likes to beat a co-worker, while it took about 300 to beat a spouse.

But why stop there! Unfortunately, Douglas left out the craziest part of the experiment, that the algorithm was also really good at predicting real-life behavior. In fact, the computer was better at using Facebook likes to predict life outcomes, such as substance abuse and field-of-study, than human judgments or even self-reported personality traits were!

So the next time you go to judge a person, perhaps you shouldn’t judge them by what’s on the outside, nor what’s on the inside, but rather by what they like on Facebook.

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