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Status Updates Don’t Lie

Slicing through millions of messages offers a vivid look at personality.

Bogdan Tymofiienko / Shutterstock

Every message posted to a social media site is like a fingerprint—a fleeting trace of the poster. A close analysis of these words, researchers are showing, can enrich our sense of who the users are, online and off.

A team of investigators recently dug into millions of Facebook updates to get a better sense of how personality reads. That is, which words and phrases do specific types of people—the darkly neurotic, say, or the pleasantly agreeable—tend to use when communicating with friends? To find out, they cross-referenced the status updates of thousands of users with the results of a personality test those users accessed via the app MyPersonality.

“The results let you see what personality factors like conscientiousness look like in everyday life,” says Gregory Park, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and a member the World Well-Being Project, a group of social scientists, computer scientists, and statisticians. The analysis also yielded some surprises. Conscientiousness, for example, is associated with planning and a tendency to get things done, but much of the language highly conscientious people tend to use relates to R and R. “I was pretty surprised to see words like weekend and relaxing ,” Park says.

In one study, Park’s team created a rapid, computer-based model for predicting users’ ratings on five commonly studied personality dimensions. Its predictions turned out to be closer to users’ test results than the best guesses of their friends. While the model isn’t intended for analyzing individuals, it could be useful for estimating the average characteristics of large groups of people over time—even, hypothetically, those of entire towns and cities.

For analysts of important human variables like personality, health, or political attitudes, social media offer naturalistic samples of how people interact with the world. “More and more,” says psychologist Molly Ireland of Texas Tech University, “the language that we are analyzing truly represents what people are thinking and feeling throughout the day.”

Five Factors

Some words, phrases, and symbols most and least associated with each major personality factor.


Can’t wait to party with my girls at the beach this weekend!!! ;)

Spent the night drawing and finding new manga and anime on the internet . ^_^


Thankful to have such an awesome family. Love you all. #blessed

F*** these stupid bitches with their bulls*** .

Emotional Stability

Got a workout on the basketball court, chillin with the fam ... it’s a beautiful day.

Sick of being depressed and lonely all the f***ing time.

Openness to Experience

I’ve discovered some wild electronic music here...opening up a whole new universe . Writing about it soon.

Cant wait till the game tonight, wen r u all goin?


Long day of studying...just about ready for summer vacation . Only two more finals : Back to work !

F*** , I’m bored . Back to Pokemon I guess. XD