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Facebook Profiles Show Real Personalities, But Not Always


A recent study from the University of Texas at Austin reports that people who create profiles for Facebook reveal surprisingly accurate and real personalities of the profile owners. While this finding may hold true for some people, another recent study found that 25 percent of teenagers have created a profile using a false identity, and 39 percent have posted something that they regretted later.

More than 700 million people around the world have created an online profile on various social networking sites, including Facebook, MySpace, and others. Although it has been widely thought that people create profiles that enhance their image and personalities, thereby trying to impress others, the University of Texas study found this generally was not true.

Psychologist Sam Gosling and his team of researchers gathered profiles of 236 college-aged people from the United States (Facebook) and Germany (StudiVZ, SchuelerVZ). They evaluated the profile owners’ real personality characteristics along with their ideal-personality traits (how they wanted to be). The personality characteristics assessed included extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness.

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The study observers rated the profiles of people they did not know and then compared those ratings to the profile owners’ actual personality and their wished-for personality. The personality impressions based on the social network profiles were accurate and not impacted by the profile owners’ ideal personality traits.

When people use social networks to reveal information about themselves that is inaccurate or embarrassing or information about others that is damaging, they may place themselves in danger or in a regrettable situation that can haunt them for the rest of their lives. A survey conducted by Common Sense Media released its results in August 2009 and showed that 13 percent of teenagers have posted a nude or seminude picture of themselves or others online, 25 percent have created a profile with a false identity, 37 percent have used social networking to make fun of other students, and 39 percent have posted something they regretted later.

Psychologist Gosling noted that their findings suggest that online social networks such as Facebook “are not so much about providing positive spin for the profile owners, but are instead just another medium for engaging in genuine social interactions, much like the telephone.” He also noted that “being able to express personality accurately contributes to the popularity of online social networks in two ways.” One is that it allows people to let other people know who they are, which satisfies a need to be known by others. It also makes profile creators feel they can trust the information about peoples’ personalities that they gather from online social networks like Facebook. Many teenagers who are using social networking sites do not appear to be aware of the long-term personal harm they can cause by posting inaccurate, embarrassing, or regrettable information.

Common Sense Media survey, Aug. 10, 2009
University of Texas at Austin, news release Dec 1, 2009