When you click a "like" button on Facebook, you could be telling the world whether you're gay or straight, liberal or conservative, intelligent or not so much -- even if you don't intend to. That's what researchers found when they ran tens of thousands of Facebook profiles and questionnaires through a computer algorithm to find the obvious as well as not-so-obvious connections.
The results were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and you can sample the method for yourself at a website called YouAreWhatYouLike.com.
"The main message of the paper is that whether they like it or not, people do communicate their individual traits in their online behavior," said lead author Michal Kosinski, operations director at the University of Cambridge's Psychometrics Center.
Some of the correlations are obvious: For example, If you're a fan of the "I'm Proud to Be a Christian" Facebook page, it's a pretty safe bet that you're a Christian. But others are hard to explain: Why is it that liking the "Curly Fries" page is associated with having a high IQ? Why does the computer model put "Sometimes I Just Lay in Bed and Think About Life" in the category for homosexual females, while "Thinking of Something and Laughing Alone" is linked to heterosexual females?
"These little patterns are really not perceptible to humans," Kosinski said. Sometimes, it takes a computer.
Kosinski and his colleagues conducted their experiment over the course of several years, through their MyPersonality website and Facebook app. More than 8 million people took the MyPersonality survey, which asked participants about their personal details and also had them answer questions about personality traits. About half of the test-takers gave their OK for the researchers to match up their survey results with Facebook likes, on an anonymous basis. More than 58,000 of the volunteered profiles from U.S. respondents were selected for matching.
The results were analyzed to produce correlations in more than a dozen categories, including five widely accepted personality attributes (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional stability). Those are the attributes analyzed on the "You Are What You Like" website. The other categories included IQ, religion, politics, sexual orientation, age, gender, race, relationship status, alcohol and drug use, tobacco use, life satisfaction, number of friends -- and even whether a Facebook user's parents had separated by the time the user was 21.
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