David Evans presented a paper at the International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM 2008) this week on the science of interpersonal perception, or more specifically: how well people are able to understand (or "get") others based on others' online profiles, and what elements of those profiles are most important to that understanding.
The results presented in the paper, "What Elements of an Online Social Networking Profile Predict Target-Rater Agreement in Personality Impressions?", are based on data collected through an online site, YouJustGetMe, that invites users to answer a set of 40 questions designed to enable assessment of their personality - based on the "big five" personality traits, which, according to Wikipedia, include the following:
- Openness - appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience.
- Conscientiousness - a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behaviour.
- Extraversion - energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others.
- Agreeableness - a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
- Neuroticism - a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability
Are people getting to know each other via social media? Are they at least seeing others as the others see themselves? Under what conditions?
The YouJustGetMe web site was designed to answer these questions. The site enables users to conduct a personality self-assessment (i.e., answer the 40 questions for themselves), create a profile of themselves based primarily on things they love or hate (33 pre-defined fields), and assess (guess) others' personalities - answering the 40 questions as they would apply to the "target" person - based on the target person's profile. The self-assessments are then compared to assessments by others to measure the impression agreement. They also created a YouJustGetMe Facebook application to enable the same kind of experiences within a specific, and popular, social networking website (which they acronymize as SNW). In both contexts - the YJGM and FB sites - users who created profiles could invite friends or family to provide assessments of them, and/or they could enable other random users to provide assessments of them.
The findings, in a nutshell, are:
- People get each other
SNW profile owners are generally seen by others as they see themselves (i.e. impression agreement was substantial)
- People on Facebook get each other
Impression agreement was associated with context (agreement was stronger on the basis of Facebook profiles than on YouJustGetMe profiles)
- Women are better guessers and easier to guess than men (random assignment)
within the context in which raters were judging unknown targets (i.e., YouJustGetMe profiles), women were better raters than men and were rated with higher levels of agreement than men
- Some profile elements provide better clues than others
several specific elements of the profiles were associated with increased or diminished levels of impression agreement.
The first two results are not terribly surprising to me. The first finding is consistent with other studies that suggest dating profiles are pretty accurate, e.g., Nicole Elison's presentation on "Deceptive Self-Presentation in Online Dating Profiles" at the recent Communities and Technologies conference (C&T 2007). I don't mean to imply that Facebook is a dating site, but like online dating sites, I believe most Facebook users know, want to know, or might come into physical contact with (or at least proximity of), each other. The second is consistent with other papers presented at this conference (e.g., the two papers presented by Kristin Stecher and Scott Counts - which I hope to blog about, along with other presentations at the conference, sometime soon) and other conferences (e.g., papers presented by Cliff Lampe and Scott Golder at CHI 2007 ... for which I just realized I never finished / posted my blog summary) that provide evidence for the efficacy of Facebook features in conveying information.
The third result is interesting, as it brings to mind some of the ideas that Louann Brizendine writes about in her book, The Female Brain, regarding the evolutionary biological basis for women's keener perceptual abilities:
If you can read faces and voices, you can tell what an infant needs. You can predict what a bigger, more aggressive male is going to do. And since you're smaller, you probably need to band with other females to fend off attacks from a ticked off caveman - or cavemen.
She also writes about how and why women - and girls - are far more keenly aware of their own appearance than men (or boys), which I suspect would lead to higher agreement between the image they want to project and the image that is perceived by others. [Aside: the last time I wrote about The Female Brain - in the context of Content-Centered Conversations (regarding teen use of social media) - a comment directed me to some other material questioning some of Louann's claims; I remain open to further clarifications and corrections about my interpretations of this and other books.]
The fourth item was also interesting. The most useful profile elements that led to people "getting" other people (in decreasing order of utility) were:
- A link to funny video
- What makes me glad to be alive?
- Most embarrassing thing I ever did
- Proudest thing I ever did
- My spirituality
- A great person
- I believe this
The least useful profile elements in helping people get other people (in increasing order of utility) were:
- Profile picture was a non-person
- An awful website
- An awful person
- A great book
I'm surprised that the link to a funny video is the most useful profile element, but the other elements make sense to me. Looking over the least useful elements, I'm glad to see that the things we love are better able to help us understand each other than the things we hate, however I'm surprised that a great book was among the least useful ... especially given the recent NYTimes essay by Rachel Donadio on books as markers for compatibility, It’s Not You, It’s Your Books:
Anyone who cares about books has at some point confronted the Pushkin problem: when a missed — or misguided — literary reference makes it chillingly clear that a romance is going nowhere fast. At least since Dante’s Paolo and Francesca fell in love over tales of Lancelot, literary taste has been a good shorthand for gauging compatibility. These days, thanks to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, listing your favorite books and authors is a crucial, if risky, part of self-branding. When it comes to online dating, even casual references can turn into deal breakers. Sussing out a date’s taste in books is “actually a pretty good way — as a sort of first pass — of getting a sense of someone,” said Anna Fels, a Manhattan psychiatrist and the author of “Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives.” “It’s a bit of a Rorschach test.” To Fels (who happens to be married to the literary publisher and writer James Atlas), reading habits can be a rough indicator of other qualities. “It tells something about ... their level of intellectual curiosity, what their style is,” Fels said. “It speaks to class, educational level.”
Again, I don't mean to equate Facebook with [online] dating, but I do think there are strong similarities. Perhaps the key differentiator, here, is that getting someone is not the same as getting along with someone.
One of the [other] interesting findings that David revealed was that Facebook reveals more about agreeableness and neuroticism than face-to-face encounters. He showed an interesting graph in his slides (which I hope he'll post to SlideShare) that provided some insights into how different systems (online and offline) mediate revelation in each of the five categories.
As I noted in the MyStrands Labs, Seattle "mini-manifesto", one of our goals is that "our technologies will be designed to help real world communities better enjoy the benefits of virtual communities, digital communications and electronic commerce." Perhaps we can create new technology-supported channels for people to better get each other's agreeableness and neuroticism in physical spaces; although this may not be welcomed by disagreeable or very neurotic people, I do think it would meet our goal of ultimately creating benefits for everyone.
On a more personal note, I've created a YouJustGetMe profile that has nothing more than a link to his blog. I've long been a fan of personality and social psychology, and have earlier taken a Myers-Briggs personality typology assessment (I'm an ENFP), the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment (my top 5 strengths are Woo (Win Others Over), Connectedness, Relator, Ideation and Adaptability), the "five things you don't know about me" self-disclosure blogospheric meme (I am/was a picky eater, I'm a recovering Catholic, my only "A" in high school was Personal Typing, my only non-A in grad school was Theory of Computation and I met my wife over a keg of beer) and a music and personality assessment ("reflective and complex").[Aside: The latter assessment was based on some of Sam Gosling's earlier work with Jason Rentfrow, and I enjoyed meeting Sam at the conference and talking about other dimensions of mutual interest, such as workspace personalization.]
I would be very interested to learn whether / how other people "get me" based solely on the material posted here on this blog ... or perhaps even just this post, as I've included a number of snippets from earlier blog posts in the foregoing paragraph(s). I think that between the posts and sidebar links to photos, books, people and organizations I find inspiring, that most of the 33 elements in the YouJustGetMe profile are covered. If you are reading this, I invite you to contribute your assessment of me - or, more specifically, my profile (and if you have a blog, I invite you to create a profile based solely on your blog, and if you post a comment or send me email, I'll be happy to provide an assessment of you ... and, of course, I don't take anything personally ... and hope you won't either).
As the title of this post suggests, I was originally planning to go on to ruminating on whether I even get myself, but I've already reflected on self-reflection and self-expression ... and will save further rumination on this topic for another time.
I'll include - and conclude with - the YouJustGetMe analysis of my self-assessment in the post-continuation below (which you can view by clicking the link), hoping that not including it in the main body of this post will reduce the likelihood of irreparably biasing the outcome of this informal experiment.
[Note: if you do want to contribute an assessment via
my profile on the YouJustGetMe web site, please do not read the rest of this blog post
until you make your contribution. Thanks!]
You dislike making commitments or plans because another more attractive opportunity may arise later. You are curious about many different things and highly value artistic expressions and ingenious thoughts. You tend to be relaxed in most situations and can handle stress well. You are typically respectful toward others and dislike confrontation. You show some tendency toward being outgoing and sociable.
YouJustGetMe.com's guest psychologist Dr. Peggy has a little more, uh, informal interpretation of your traits...
About that "Casual" bubble... "What's the big deal?" might be one of your favorite mottos. Indeed, you are pretty casual in your approach to life, taking thing as they come and not worrying too much about the future, or even the next minute. You're spontaneity earns you friends as you are very fun to be with. However, the same friends might be annoyed by your inability to show up to places on time, or even show up. Your parents may have worried about your lack of ambition at times, but hey, there's a job for everyone....even slackers like yourself. While your more stuffy peers are worrying about their incomes and 401Ks, you are out there living life to the fullest, today, tomorrow, forever. Your scores indicate that while you tend to be fairly relaxed, you also exhibit some responsible tendencies. Could it be that sometimes you actually have a plan and enjoy some semblance of order? Who knows, maybe tomorrow you might actually choose to work instead of play.
About that "Alternative" bubble... You are intellectually curious, imaginative, and literary. I do believe the technical term is "artsy fartsy." When reading poetry, the images may move you until you quiver with delight, or perhaps quivering from all of the espresso that you've been drinking. Speaking of caffeine, it would not be a big surprise if you indulged in other substances to heighten your senses. After all, whoever heard of creative geniuses who were sober? Freud was a coke-head, Hemingway was a fall-down drunk, and Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil, probably while high on wacky tabacky. You have quite the active fantasy life and are often in la la land, earning you the well-deserved nickname "space cadet" from your loved ones. Mostly, you're a lot of fun to hang out with because you're always game for whatever idea your non-medicated (but should be) friend has in mind. The next time someone suggests that you streak naked in the dead of winter, do think twice, or at least wear some mittens.
About that "Unemotional" bubble... Some people consistently react emotionally to their environment and freak out over little things. You, my friend, are not among those people - at least not usually. Worrying and stressing are not your typical style. Even faced with absurd circumstances, you are calm and may pride yourself in your ability to use logic and reason. As a consequence of your Dalai Lama-like persona, you seldom experience the highs and lows of more emotionally reactive folks. Rather, your moods could be graphed like the flat-line of an ER patient. That analogy may seem grim, but *really*, who is more placid than the person who ceases to be? Anyhoo, if you're annoyed with my analogy right now, it's probably because you only scored medium high in the emotional stability trait and have some tendencies to be easily disturbed and offended.
About that "Cooperative" bubble... Your scores would suggest that you tend to be more agreeable than you are competitive. What does that mean? For starters, it means that you have a fairly strong tendency to believe in social harmony and cooperation. You are a nice person. You want people to get along and do the right thing - for each other, for the greater humanity. That's not to say that you are a total pushover, but that you believe in the niceties of life. This is probably why you are very popular with people and have many friends. The difference between you and someone who is very high in agreeableness is that you have a bit of an edge. Maybe you laugh when people fall down and hurt themselves, maybe you secretly occasionally think people suck. Whatever it is that's holding you back from winning Ms. or Mr. Congeniality, that's also what makes you more interesting.
About that "Extraverted" bubble... I have a friend who can strike up a conversation with anyone: Nobel Peace prize nominees and winners, muppets, sanitation workers, perfect strangers, my crazy uncle Harry. My friend is a bona-fide extravert. Your scores indicate that while you tend to be extraverted, you also have some degree of reserve. Perhaps in some situations, you prefer to say less or maybe you have duct tape over your mouth. Either way, you may save your high energy for the situations when you have a need or desire to be "on" and your quiet moments for those with whom you feel most comfortable.