Apparently Your Facebook Updates Can Predict if You’re a Psycho

Science & Tech / Web Culture

Apparently Your Facebook Updates Can Predict if You’re a Psycho

By: Chris O'Shea

The next time you go to update your Facebook status, you might want to think long and hard about what you're about to post. That's thanks to a group of researchers who claim that they can predict if you're a psychopath based solely on your Facebook statuses. Suddenly, all those references to American Psycho take on a whole new meaning.

A team of scientists at Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg and Lund University in Sweden wanted to see if abnormal personality traits could be predicted using Facebook updates, so they conducted tests on 304 people. The results were published in their report, titled "The dark side of Facebook: Semantic representations of status updates predict the Dark Triad of personality." The "dark triad" includes narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.

To start, the team had people answer a survey that focused on personality traits. The answers would help give the researchers insight if the participants leaned toward one of the traits in the dark triad. Then the team had the people submit a variety of their most recent Facebook updates, and plugged those into an algorithm that they created.The algorithm looked to see if there was any sort of relationship between the text of the subjects Facebook status updates and their personality traits. And surprise surprise it was able to correctly match the users whose survey answers showed that they leaned toward psychopathic and narcissistic tendencies. 

The most interesting aspect of the study, the researchers noted, was that their algorithm predicted negative traits the most. It had a difficult time picking up on positive personality traits. But the study's lead author, Lund University psychology professor Sverker Sikstrom, has his theories for why this is. He suggested that people understand that shocking updates stand out more, thus people use them more often. "Facebook is about connecting people, but in so doing it has created a challenge of increasing competition in the market for social interaction," Sikstrom told the English-language Swedish news site The Local. "The competition for attention could actually end up getting people to reveal more of their dark side."

This is a good theory, and it also points to the fact that people are often not who they really are in real life when they use social media. It's easy to update your status about wanting to punch the guy who spilled his coffee on you. There's almost zero repercussions for doing that. However, if you actually punched the guy — something that perhaps a psycho would do — there would definitely be consequences. So maybe the best thing to take away from this study is that the people who post crazy Facebook updates are harmless. It's the people who rarely update that you need to worry about.

[Image via Flickr - Brett Jordan]

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