A computer can know you better than your friends and relatives (but not as good as your partner)

Check this graph:

So, a computer checking your digital footprint, based on enough Facebook likes, knows your personality better than your friends or family. Well, or maybe you know yourself better than your family or friends (because you are the person clicking the ‘likes’). Do read this blog post by one of the researchers who reviewed the study.

The press release is very, very long, I share the most relevant part:

In the new study, researchers used a sample of 86,220 volunteers on Facebook who completed a 100-item personality questionnaire through the ‘myPersonality’ app, as well as providing access to their Likes.

These results provided self-reported personality scores for what are known in psychological practice as the ‘big five’ traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism–the OCEAN model. Through this, researchers could establish which Likes equated with higher levels of particular traits e.g. liking ‘Salvador Dali’ or ‘meditation’ showed a high degree of openness.

Users of the ‘myPersonality’ app were then given the option of inviting friends and family to judge the psychological traits of the user through a shorter version of the personality test. These were the human judges in the study–those listed on Facebook as friends or family expressing their judgement of a subject’s personality using a 10-item questionnaire

Researchers were able to get a sample of 17,622 participants judged by one friend or family member, and a sample of 14,410 judged by two.

To gauge the accuracy of these measurements, the online personality judgements were corroborated with a meta-analysis of previous psychological studies over decades which looked at how people’s colleagues, family and so on judge their personality. Researchers found their online values similar to the averages from years of person-to-person research.

In this way, the researchers were able to come up with accuracy comparisons between computer algorithms and the personality judgements made by humans. Given enough Likes, the computers came closer to a person’s self-reported personality than their brothers, mothers or partners.

Dr Michal Kosinski, co-author and researcher at Stanford, says machines have a couple of key advantages that make these results possible: the ability to retain and access vast quantities of information, and the ability to analyse it with algorithms–the techniques of ‘Big Data’.

“Big Data and machine-learning provide accuracy that the human mind has a hard time achieving, as humans tend to give too much weight to one or two examples, or lapse into non-rational ways of thinking,” he said. Nevertheless, the authors concede that detection of some traits might be best left to human abilities, those without digital footprints or dependant on subtle cognition.

The authors of the study write that automated, accurate, and cheap personality assessments could improve societal and personal decision-making in many ways–from recruitment to romance.

“The ability to judge personality is an essential component of social living–from day-to-day decisions to long-term plans such as whom to marry, trust, hire, or elect as president,” said Cambridge co-author Dr David Stillwell. “The results of such data analysis can be very useful in aiding people when making decisions.”

Youyou explains: “Recruiters could better match candidates with jobs based on their personality; products and services could adjust their behaviour to best match their users’ characters and changing moods.

“People may choose to augment their own intuitions and judgments with this kind of data analysis when making important life decisions such as choosing activities, career paths, or even romantic partners. Such data-driven decisions may well improve people’s lives,” she said.

The researchers say that this kind of data mining and its inferences has hallmarks of techniques currently used by some digital service providers, and that–for many people–a future in which machines read our habits as an open book on a massive scale may seem dystopian to those concerned with privacy.

It’s a concern shared by the researchers. “We hope that consumers, technology developers, and policy-makers will tackle those challenges by supporting privacy-protecting laws and technologies, and giving the users full control over their digital footprints,” said Kosinski.

Abstract of the research:

Judging others’ personalities is an essential skill in successful social living, as personality is a key driver behind people’s interactions, behaviors, and emotions. Although accurate personality judgments stem from social-cognitive skills, developments in machine learning show that computer models can also make valid judgments. This study compares the accuracy of human and computer-based personality judgments, using a sample of 86,220 volunteers who completed a 100-item personality questionnaire. We show that (i) computer predictions based on a generic digital footprint (Facebook Likes) are more accurate (r = 0.56) than those made by the participants’ Facebook friends using a personality questionnaire (r = 0.49); (ii) computer models show higher interjudge agreement; and (iii) computer personality judgments have higher external validity when predicting life outcomes such as substance use, political attitudes, and physical health; for some outcomes, they even outperform the self-rated personality scores. Computers outpacing humans in personality judgment presents significant opportunities and challenges in the areas of psychological assessment, marketing, and privacy.

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