These Social Networks: Personality and Preference

Feb 15 2012 Published by under [Information&Communication], Uncategorized

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On Valentine's Day, an online friend tweeted a link to a Wall Street Journal article about a study of personality and social media network usage. The article consisted of 118 words, but I had to know more. I pulled the paper for detail:

A tale of two sites: Twitter vs. Facebook and the personality predictors of social media usage. Hughes et al. Computers in Human Behavior 28:561-69, 2012

The authors want to know if users of Twitter and Facebook differ in their personalities. First, what aspects of personality do they want to consider? They study the
Big-Five:

  • Neuroticism: Measure of affect and emotional control. Low levels suggest emotional stability, and higher levels reflect sensitivity and nervousness (Drama Queens, if you please).
  • Extraversion: Measure of engagement with others. Extraverts tend to be outgoing and talkative. Intraverts get their energy from within themselves.
  • Openness-to-Experience: Measure of desire for novelty. High scores indicate broad interests for new experiences, with low scorers preferring familiarity.
  • Agreeableness: Measure of "friendliness." High scores general found for people who are kind, warm, and sympathetic.
  • Conscientiousness: Measure of work ethic, orderliness, and thoroughness. High scores belong to those who get it done on time. Low scores can indicate proscratination tendencies.

In addition they also assessed two personality facets that may also influence online interactions:

  • Sociability: Measure of need to belong. No distinction between this score and that for extraversion/intraversion is presented.
  • Need for Cognition: Measure of disposition toward novel cognitive stimulation.

They combined validated survey instruments for each of these factors, along with some questions about Twitter and Facebook use and basic demographics, and made a single online instrument to test the following hypotheses:

  1. Neuroticism will be positively correlated with social use of both Facebook and Twitter
  2. Extraversion will be positively correlated with use of Facebook
  3. Extraversion will be negatively related to use of Twitter
  4. Openness will be correlated with both social and informational use of both Facebook and Twitter
  5. Agreeableness will be unrelated to social network use
  6. Conscientiousness will be negatively correlated with social use of both Facebook and Twitter
  7. Conscientiousness will be positively correlated with informational use of social network services
  8. Need for cognition will be positively correlated with informational use of Facebook and Twitter, but will be unrelated to social use
  9. Sociability will positively correlate with the social use of Facebook and Twitter, but will be unrelated to informational use

The investigators recruited participants through ads on both Twitter and Facebook; informed consent was obtained and a small donation made to charity on behalf of each person. No report is made on how many participants came from ads on which service. A total of 300 people (97 males, 207 females) completed the survey. Ages ranged from 18 to 63 (mean 27). Europeans accounted for 70%, 18% were from North America, 9% from Asia, and the remaining 3% from other continents. 55% of participants were employed, 41% were students, and only 4% had no job.

The first analysis classified participants by social network usage. Four factors generated included Twitter Information, Facebook Social, Twitter Social, and Facebook Information. The strongest correlation identified was Sociability with both Twitter Information and Facebook Information, completely refuting hypothesis #9. The pattern of correlations with Twitter Information and Facebook information were diametrically opposed; they conclude that personality may help determine which service one uses to consume or deliver information. The strongest correlation with Twitter Social was Conscientiousness, while Sociability showed the strongest relationship to Facebook Social.

The investigators also asked each participant which network they preferred, with 197 picking Facebook. Users with this preference rated higher in Sociability, Extraversion, and Neuroticism than those preferring Twitter. The latter group scored higher in Need for Cognition.

The authors discuss a boatload of correlations in these data, for what they are worth. Correlations do not  prove causation, and this study population was small, self-selected, and not generalizable. Their findings provide support and lack-thereof for all nine of their hypotheses.

The bottom line for me is that most people who use social media have a preference for one site or another. For my personal interactions, I need to be where "my people" are. If I want to get the word out about a product or service or event or other news item, I need to be everywhere; otherwise I will miss people. Diversity issues also present themselves, not through the traditional race-gender-ethnicity lens but through a personality lens. When I restrict myself to one network, I may be preaching to a choir even more like myself than I imagined.

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