How Does Personality Influence Blog Writing and Reading?

Do birds of a feather blog together?

Posted May 08, 2010

Birds togetherA study soon to be published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies indicates that blog text presents consistent, readable cues about the blog author's personality. In addition, readers are more attracted to authors they think are similar in personality to themselves. So, which blogs are you reading here on Psychology Today? Is it about personality?

My post today is based on a pre-published copy of a paper written by Jamy Li and Mark Chignell of the University of Toronto. I provide the full reference at the end of this post. I just want to note this source first, as I draw on the data they provide about blogging and social media use.

Li and Chignell report that over two-thirds of the global Internet population visit blogs or other social networking sites. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen report they cite in their paper, blogs and social networks account for about 10% of the time spent on the Internet. Although it's a moving target to report on, they do note that their most recent sources indicate that there are 1 million blog posts each day on 133 million blogs.

Given the prominence of social media and blogs in particular, Li and Chignell investigated the role of personality in blogs. They wanted to know whether or not personality can be conveyed in short blog entries and, if so, how these perceptions of personality influenced readers' attraction to the authors.

They based their work on a large body of face-to-face research on which basis we know, for example, that we are attracted to people with similar personalities; the old adage of "birds of a feather flock together." They also based their study on past research that demonstrated that natural language is a good indicator of personality. We can judge another's personality from linguistic expression.

Given their focus on computer-mediated communication, they were also interested in the effects of the genre of this communication on readers' reactions. For example, blogs can be of a personal journal style or more of a commentary on current events or ideas. We write differently in these genres, so their study also addressed the effects of blog genre on the perception of authors' personality.

Their research
Li and Chignell conducted two experimental studies. In the first, they had 8 participants (6 males, average age of 29 years) who were fluent in English write blogs in the two genres noted above for 20 minutes. These participants also completed a personality measure (the Big Five traits - you can learn more about these at my previous blog about personality and procrastination). In the second study, 12 participants (6 males, average age of 25 years) read the corpus of blog entries from Study 1. These participants rated their interpersonal attraction to blog authors (e.g., "I feel that I would probably like this blog author") as well as the perceived personality of the authors using the same scale as the authors had in Study 1.

Their results
Although the contrived experimental nature of the study had many limitations (that the authors duly note) including shorter than average blog entries than we might see here on Psychology Today, the results are provocative and interesting to consider. A few of the main results are:

  • Readers in Study 2 were able to judge the blog authors' personalities with a high agreement amongst themselves,
  • Readers reported higher attraction for bloggers more similar to themselves in perceived personality,
  • The agreement between readers on authors' personality was high, but, interestingly, the author-reader agreement on personality was low, and
  • Genre did influence the perception of personality with journal-type entries being judged to be more introverted and agreeable and less conscientious than commentary-style entries.

Comments and Conclusions
Overall, the results of this study show that blog-author personality can be inferred from brief samples of blog text and that these inferences are related to reader-author attraction. However, the exploratory nature of the research certainly raises many more questions than the authors originally posed. For example, to what extent does this effect generalize to naturally existing blog communities, and what other factors influence these perceptions?

These results and the study itself is interesting from the perspective of exploring the use of natural language processing in computer-mediated communication. With so much of our social interaction now mediated by communication technologies, there is much we need to learn about how we make sense of this from social-psychological perspective. Certainly, the results of this research, tentative as it may be, demonstrates the classic finding in social psychology of the "law of similarity-attraction" - birds of a feather flock together.

As we seek to understand this new social fabric, partitioning the variance of various measures of interpersonal attraction or hits on blog sites, it will be interesting to learn to what extent topic interest versus blogger personality plays a role.

I know one thing for sure, the results of this paper indicate that bloggers may want to choose their words wisely. The terms of engagement for social presentation are changing, and linguistic expression may be more revealing than we had ever imagined.

Jamy Li and Mark Chignell, Birds of a feather: How personality influences blog writing and reading, Int. J. Human-Computer Studies, doi:10.1016/j.ijhcs.2010.04.001