"It may seem obvious that a super extraverted person would talk a lot about parties," Eichstaedt said, "but taken all together, these word clouds provide an unprecedented window into the psychological world of people with a given trait. 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?"
"When I ask myself," Seligman said, "'What's it like to be an extrovert?' 'What's it like to be a teenage girl?' 'What's it like to be schizophrenic or neurotic?' or 'What's it like to be 70 years old?' these word clouds come much closer to the heart of the matter than do all the questionnaires in existence."
To test how accurately they were capturing people's traits through their open-vocabulary approach, the researchers split the volunteers into two groups and saw if a statistical model gleaned from one group could be used to infer the traits of the other. For three-quarters of the volunteers, the researchers used machine-learning techniques to build a model of the words and phrases that predict questionnaire responses. They then used this model to predict the age, gender and personalities for the remaining quarter based on their Facebook posts.
"The model was 92 percent accurate in predicting a volunteer's gender from their language usage," Schwartz said, "and we could predict a person's age within three years more than half the time. "Our personality predictions are inherently less accurate but are nearly as good as using a person's questionnaire results from one day to predict their answers to the same questionnaire on another day."
With the open-vocabulary approach shown to be equally or more predictive than closed approaches, the researchers used the word clouds to generate new insights into relationships between words and traits. For example, participants who scored low on the neurotic scale (i.e., those with the most emotional stability) used a greater number of words that referred to active, social pursuits, such as "snowboarding," "meeting" or "basketball."
"This doesn't guarantee that doing sports will make you less neurotic; it could be that neuroticism causes people to avoid sports," Ungar said. "But it does suggest that we should explore the possibility that neurotic individuals would become more emotionally stable if they played more sports."
By building a predictive model of personality based on the language of social media, researchers can now more easily approach such questions. Instead of asking millions of people to fill out surveys, future studies may be conducted by having volunteers submit their
"Researchers have studied these personality traits for many decades theoretically," Eichstaedt said, "but now they have a simple window into how they shape modern lives in the age of
Support for this research was provided by the
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