Are you creative, confident and conscientious? Or are you narcissistic, neurotic, or suffer from low self-esteem?
Most people think that psychology is the study of the mind – it isn’t. Psychology is the study of behaviour. Observing, measuring and predicting behaviour gives us a window on the mind. We can ‘people watch’ over a cup of coffee at the corner café, or we can get people to answer questionnaires, or even take part in a series of cunning, even covert experiments to more closely observe and predict the behaviour of our fellow human beings. Or… we could turn to their Facebook pages and take a good close look at what they’re up to and how they express themselves online.
It is possible to tell whether a post has been published by a male or a female – without looking at the photo or even knowing the identity or gender of the page’s owner. Believe it or not, the most common words and expressions used by women are shopping, excited, love you and the <3 emoticon (heart.) Their posts are more concerned with emotions (how they felt) than with what they have been doing.
Men on the other hand are more likely use the words fuck, fucking, fucker, he, himself, and xbox, as well as a plethora of other euphemisms to describe various parts of one’s nether regions. The content of men’s posts more often relate to sport and alcohol consumption.
Teenagers use lots of emoticons as well as variations of the expression haha. They are more likely to discuss school, homework and teachers than older people – no big surprise there – and to use abbreviations such as LOL, LMFAO and the slightly more complicated ROFLMFAO, etc.
At the older end of the scale – 30 and over – people posted more about work, sleeping, and wine, as well as weddings, restaurants and genteel weekend breaks.
We know that regular Facebook users fall into one of three groups. The biographers for instance are really extroverts, obsessed with making public every particular of their lives, no matter how superficial – where they are going, who they are with, what music they are listening to, what they just watched on TV, and so on, ad nauseam.
Then there are the narcissists, who will spend hours photoshopping their self-portraits to share with the world their beauty, their massive life success, and if they have wealth, that too.
And finally, there are the publicists, the people who use their Facebook page as an advertising platform as part of the promotion of their businesses. [I belong to this group – you will never see even a tiny sliver of my private life on Facebook, only stuff that advertises my events and the odd interesting or amusing picture to make it a bit more interesting.]
Researchers at Brunel University, led by Dr. Tara Marshall, have completed an analysis of 555 online surveys completed by Facebook users. The surveys focused on the Big 5 personality traits: extroversion, openness, agreeableness, neuroticism and conscientiousness. The surveys also measured self-esteem and narcissism.
Surprise, surprise, they found that Facebook users did publish posts that fell in line with their personality traits.
Specifically, they found that people who scored high in neuroticism sought the kind of validation from other users that they can’t find offline. When they receive more LIKES and positive comments they tend to experience the emotional benefits of social inclusion, whereas those who receive none feel ostracised. Worse, the loss of even a single LIKE or the receipt of one negative comment would cast them out into the emotional wilderness. In many cases, it caused them to repost and log in to their account more frequently in the hope that things would take an upturn. This behaviour is startlingly similar to problem gambling, where addicts ‘chase’ losses in the vain hope of another win.
Extroverts take advantage of Facebook as a tool for social engagement and make every effort to publicise their social activity. They are less motivated by LIKES and more motivated by interaction with others.
Narcissists update their achievements such as diet, exercise, how many people they had at their shows, and how much they are worth. They are attention seekers and as far as their Facebook page is concerned, will also measure validation through their number of LIKES in much the same way as the neurotics do.
According to Facebook, updates about achievements receive the most LIKES and this encourages narcissists to write achievement themed posts.
Open, curious and creative people are more likely to post about political beliefs and intellectual topics. [I occasionally do this, but only when something makes me angry, such as Tony Blair or Jeremy Corbyn.] These personality types share impersonal information, such as current events and research content. They are unlikely to seek social interaction and favour more information sharing.
Conscientious users post infrequently and are more aware of how others receive their content. When they do post, it is most often about their children.
People with low self-esteem post frequently about their current romantic interest or their long-term partner, and it has been suggested that their motivation is to reduce their own insecurity and demonstrate to others that their relationship is doing well. Paradoxically, these posts receive fewer LIKES and make users seem less likable.
If we are to understand more about the human condition, especially in an age when technology has revolutionized our lives in more ways than we recognise, it’s important to understand why people write about certain topics in certain ways on Facebook and other social media.
Doubtless more research will be done along these lines and hopefully the results will be posted online. In the meantime, it might be a healthy idea for Facebook users to understand which group they belong to… and why.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2015. All Rights Reserved.