Tech Talk: This Personality has 5,000 Likes


A recent study by the University of Cambridge discusses a system of working out a person’s personality and background from their Facebook likes.


By Nathan Blades

Social Networking is both the glory and the bane of the modern age. It connects us to our friends and family in a way that would be impossible 20 years ago, but there are very few that use it who don’t feel at least a little… exposed.

There’s a bit of a mental disconnect where we are all aware that what we put on the internet is publically accessible, but we’re still willing to share our interests in great detail.

You may think that what you post on Facebook doesn’t reveal too much about yourself, but a recent study by the University of Cambridge discusses a system of working out a person’s personality and background from as little as a single Facebook like.

To quickly explain how, they took a sample of 58,466 American volunteers, who gave their Facebook profiles, a list of their Likes, and took a standardised personality test. Matching the test results to the pages they liked, those correlations were used to work out the personalities of other Facebook users.

The range of categories discerned is pretty mind blowing, if I’m honest. Things like age and gender are obvious, but the ability to predict things like race, sexuality, political leanings and drug use is a lot more shocking. In fact, male homosexuality was predicted with 85% accuracy and determining race (either Caucasian or African American) was predicted with a whopping 95%.

There are also results for personality traits like intelligence, emotional stability and satisfaction with life, but the accuracy of these was a lot more variable. The levels of IQ determined from Likes only matched up with personality tests 39% of the time. However, to guess something as nebulous as intelligence correctly more than a third of the time is nothing to sniff at.

Of course, the more Likes a person has, the easier it is to determine their personality. For age and gender, you only need to have Liked 10 things for this system to guess right with at least 50% accuracy. The curve of prediction accuracy peters out eventually, so those of you out there with 700 Likes, you don’t need to worry – the system could figure you out with 300.

The types of Liked items that indicated personality traits are a mixed bag. It wouldn’t take much lateral thinking to decide if someone who Liked the “No H8 Campaign”  page is gay or not, but “Curly Fries” don’t seem to have an obvious relation to high IQ. I definitely agree with “Being Confused After Waking Up From Naps” being an indicator of Male Heterosexuality.

The study is understandably scary news to anyone who has concerns for internet privacy, but although we humans can’t help but use social trends to express ourselves, we have far more than just one personality.

How you identify yourself changes all the time, depending on where you are and who you’re talking to. Your personality online is most likely a good deal different from how you are in real life, and I’m sure the way you use Facebook is different to your Twitter social life.

It’s sadly quite hard to break social stereotyping and mask your gender, race or sexuality online (even if you don’t overtly post about it, correlations can still be made), but your emotional stability or your tastes in entertainment change all the time. There’s no need to feel indignant just because Liking Lady Antebellum is linked to low IQ.

I hope the researchers of this study move on to other social networks in later research. A personality breakdown on Tumblr would be a sight to see.

What to learn more?

You can take the test yourself at You Are What You Like.

Zadie Smith feels a bit left behind by the ‘Facebook Generation’ in a post on NY Books

The study has a supplement that lists the biggest indicators of personality types.

Photo courtesy of newdavich, with thanks.

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