Face It: What Americans’ Facebook Postings Reveal about Themselves and All of Us.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  What about a picture of a thousand words?

Researchers at University of Pennsylvania recently studied the Facebook postings of over 75,000 volunteers who agreed to have their postings analyzed in the name of science.  The researchers used “word clouds” to demonstrate their results with more dominant themes in larger font sizes – a technique we often employ here at Public Opinion Strategies to analyze the same type of open-ended responses we collect in our interviews.

First, the study demonstrated that stereotypes generally do have some roots in reality.   Just look at the massive distinction in the language of the postings of men and women – “shopping” and “love” were two of the more frequently used terms for females, as opposed to the prominent use of the “f” word and sports terms among their male counterparts.   And for those who are trying to crack the code of women voters, note the complete absence of any government-related clusters among the female respondents. Men had two.  Instead, women were talking about emotions and relationships far more often, and placing their lives in the context of how it affected themselves and those they love.  Men were far more concrete.  As the study authors cited, men were far more likely to mention objects in their postings (for example, “Xbox.”)

In another Venus and Mars finding that might be revealing for personal relationships more than politics, the authors noted that men “did in fact precede such references to their opposite-sex partner with ‘my’ significantly more often than females.”   Not that women never used a possessive, but it was more often preceded by an adjective (as in “her amazing boyfriend”).

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Second, age also had a huge role in the conversations of respondents.  As one can see, school language (“homework”) evolved into college language (“semesters”), which then shifted into career language (“office” or “at work”).  Those 30 and older were far more likely to phase into relationship language (“son” or “mother”), and one would hope that the researchers may be able to further refine the older age segments as they eventually gain more respondents in those upper age groups (I predict more “tired” language emerging from parents!).

Notably, even the language of alcohol morphed with age – shifting from what the researchers dubbed “drunk” language (“hangover” or wasted”) used in the college years to what they identified as “more reserved” in respondents’ 20’s who were more likely to talk about “drinks” or “beer.”

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Finally, what may eventually portend the most useful tools is that the researchers found that the postings of these respondents was just as good a predictor of personality as some traditional psychological tests that ask respondents to react to language and emotions.  Extroverts used language about parties, weekends, and friends, and talked about “love” and “excitement.” Introverts were far more likely to use the language of computers and Japanese media (“anime”), and interestingly the word “no” was far more frequent in their vocabulary.  As one researcher posited, “Many things seem obvious after the fact and each item makes sense, but would you have thought of them all, or even most of them?” as accurate predictors of personality.

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Similarly, on a different emotional scale, the prevalence of sports and religious language among those who exhibited strong “emotional stability” in the personality tests was my personal biggest takeaway from the research, particularly as a parent.  While it does provoke a chicken and egg question, the researchers took that question head on in their analysis. One suggested an exploration of “the possibility that neurotic individuals would become more emotionally stable if they played more sports.”

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As we continue to incorporate more “listening” into our opinion research, it is clear that many people’s heart-on-their-sleeve approach to social media provides an increasingly accurate and telling portrait that could help illuminate their more private views and decisions.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-study-on-language-and-personality-2013-10

Study Methodology and Graphs: http://www.plosone.org/article/info{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}3Adoi{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}2F10.1371{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}2Fjournal.pone.0073791#pone-0073791-g003

* Word clouds created by University of Pennsylvania

Public Opinion Strategies