Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Way You Use a Mouse Says a Lot About Your Personality

Conscientiousness, distractibility, and more.

Key points

  • Behavioral approaches to personality suggest that outward behavior can tell you what’s happening internally.
  • New research uses an innovative mouse-clicking task to sort people by personality traits.
  • You can gain important insights about yourself by watching the simple act of clicking around on your device.

Gaining knowledge about your personality is more than an academic exercise. The preponderance of research on traits, or the qualities that contribute to personality, suggests important connections to mental health, physical health, and intellectual skills. However, learning about your true inner qualities may seem insurmountable, particularly given that you probably wouldn’t even know which questions to ask yourself.

From what is considered a behaviorist standpoint in psychology, the only aspect of personality that matters is what you actually do. After all, your personality doesn’t directly determine various aspects of your physical health but instead influences your health habits which, in turn, help improve or detract from the body’s ability to stave off disease. Rather than requiring hours of psychological testing, then, this approach would mean that you just have to know what to look for in your very own actions in order to get the information you need.

What’s in a Click?

According to a new study by the University of Chicago’s Kimberly Meidenbauer and colleagues (2023), “humans naturally infer internal states from physical motion cues.” The cues that the U. Chicago researchers decided to study were based on the frequency of tapping on a mouse, phone, or tablet when their participants completed an online task. Think about yourself. Do you get impatient and click, click, click when a page is slow to load? Or do you hover over the page while writing just to eliminate boredom?

That the mouse clicks and hovering have relevance to a deeper level of human behavior is clear from investigations that put these behaviors under the microscope. As noted by Meidenbauer et al., the more you click, the greater your interest in what's on the screen. The rapid clickers may also be hesitant, indicating that they must check and double-check their work.

Prior research has further established a relationship between personality as measured by Five Factor Traits and the frequency of mouse clicking. Because they’re always seeking stimulation, extraverts, as do people high in conscientiousness, move faster in general. Those high in neuroticism tend to sit still. According to Meidenbauer and her fellow authors, this earlier work is suggestive but requires more rigorous study. Their research aimed to improve on this prior research by building in more statistical controls.

The authors chose as their investigative format people's behavior while taking online surveys such as “Qualtrics,” whose validity rests on the assumption that test-takers pay attention to the questions put in front of them. The software has some controls built into it, which make it possible to detect such slackers. Still, it takes considerable effort on the part of researchers to ensure that this sloppy data is properly separated before any analyses are run.

Testing the Personality-Mouse Click Relationships

The U. Chicago team settled on an image-rating task to measure with precision the mouse-clicking behavior of their participants. You can try it yourself here. This task, in some ways, is similar to the one used in some multi-factor logins in which you have to click on all images displaying, for example, crosswalks. Think about what you do when you go through this process. Do you make a mistake, requiring you to start over, or do you take your time before hitting the submit button?

In the Meidenbauer et al. study, participants saw photos of streets taken at different angles and were asked to choose among them given different prompts. The 791 participants in their study (average age: 39 years) also completed a standard personality inventory assessing the Five Factor traits. The basic question behind the study was whether mouse movements in the image-rating task would predict personality.

The image-rating task provided a range of measures, including the number of pauses and fixations, the distance between clicks, the amount of time they spent on the task, and hovering speed. Attention-check data also made it possible for the researchers to assess such behaviors as “reclicking” in which they clicked more than necessary, the number of clicks it took them to complete the task, and the deviation their click pattern showed from that of the group as a whole. In other words, if a participant clicked on an image intended to meet a certain criterion but few others did, this atypical response would indicate that they weren’t really paying attention to the task.

As predicted, mouse-based care and attentiveness scores correlated with conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience. As indicated by atypical responses, participants who paid less attention were higher in neuroticism. Importantly, the authors used not just the individual correlations between personality traits and mouse movements but also considered that the traits are all correlated with each other. These findings also held when age was factored in, which correlated with higher conscientiousness.

What Can You Learn From Your Mouse Movements?

The U. Chicago study’s findings may now give you new ways to think about your personality traits and how they relate to your online behavior. Do you get so easily distracted that you flit from open tab to open tab on your computer? How about when you’re playing a video game? Do your movements seem random, or do they reflect care and planning?

Researchers can also gain valuable knowledge from the Meidenbauer et al. study. It can be discouraging to look through your results and see that there are holes where you expect responses to be filled in by your online participants. Adding an attention check in the form of mouse movements could help screen-inattentive responders and give some clues about their personalities.

To sum up, the idea that a simple, seemingly meaningless behavior can give you valuable insights is intriguing indeed. If you can understand yourself from what you do, your pathway to fulfillment may become much clearer.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: Pressmaster/Shutterstock


Meidenbauer, K. L., Niu, T., Choe, K. W., Stier, A. J., & Berman, M. G. (2023). Mouse movements reflect personality traits and task attentiveness in online experiments. Journal of Personality, doi: 10.1111/jopy.12736

More from Susan Krauss Whitbourne PhD, ABPP
More from Psychology Today