Your Facebook Posts Say More About Your Personality Than You Think

by Alexia LaFata

If you scroll through your Facebook news feed, you'll find people posting about everything from boasts about new jobs, to colorful pictures from lavish vacations to heated political rants about the latest social justice issue.

Facebook is a cornucopia of bullsh*t through which we all waste time perusing when we're bored at work or can't fall asleep at night.

And we can't help but pass snarky judgments on people whose posts we think are too obnoxious, or too long or too filled with gloat.

In fact, half of my phone is filled with screenshots of Facebook statuses from people who I think suck that I then make fun of with my friends (by the way, if you say you don't do this too, you're lying.).

What does someone's Facebook status really say about his or her true personality? Do those people really suck as much as I think they do? (Answer: probably)

What we choose to post on Facebook says a lot about the kind of person we are.

After all, when we use Facebook, we make active decisions to display and to hide certain things on our profiles, all in the name of crafting a specific kind of persona.

But is this online persona reflective of who we are in real life?

What does someone's choice to post a photo of his or her newborn child versus a poem he or she got published online say about that person? And what, exactly, is that person trying to communicate?

A recent study in the "Journal of Personality of Individual Differences" asked those exact questions.

Researchers Tara Marshall, Katharina Lefringhausen, and Nelli Ferenczi studied how an individual's self-esteem, levels of narcissism and extent to which the Big Five personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness) apply to them to predict what someone will post on Facebook.

They also studied the purpose of those posts, whether it was to be validated, to self-express, to communicate or connect to others or share information.

First, the researchers came up with common categories of topics that people post onto Facebook: social activities and everyday life (social activities, something funny that happened to them, everyday activities, pets, sporting events), intellectual thoughts (views on politics, current events, research/science), achievements (achieving goals, their own creative output, accomplishments, anything work or school related), diet and exercise, children and feelings about one's romantic partner.

The researchers then gave 555 Facebook users (59 percent female and 41 percent male) tests to determine their levels of self-esteem and narcissism and how neurotic, extroverted, open to experience, agreeable and conscientious they were.

They asked participants to determine how frequently they used Facebook, how many “likes” they generally received and how frequently they posted about those aforementioned topics in their statuses.

After the calculations, a number of significant correlations arose between certain personality traits and certain topics.

Overall, the study found that posts about social activities and everyday life and achievements received the most likes and comments, and posts about intellectual thoughts received the least amount.

And this makes sense. When we might talk about our achievements, people will probably respond to us with congratulations.

But if we try to start some kind of political debate -- if we, like those on Facebook, yell our viewpoints out into an open abyss of people who don't want to listen to us -- people might not want to engage at all.

According to the study, people who have lower self-esteem are more likely to post updates about their romantic partner for the purpose of self-expression, perhaps "as a way of laying claim to their relationship when it feels threatened."

On the other hand, people who are high in narcissism are more likely to post about achievements for the purpose of validation, which is "consistent with narcissists’ tendency to boast in order to gain attention."

People who are high in narcissism are also more likely to post about their diet and exercise but for the purpose of self-expression, not validation.

This implies that narcissists might talk about their diet and exercise routines "to express the personal importance they place on physical appearance."

Delving into the Big Five revealed even more interesting correlations.

Extroverted people are more likely to post about social activities and everyday life for the purpose of communicating and connecting to others.

Neurotic people are more likely to use Facebook for the purpose of validation and to "seek the attention and support that they lack offline."

People who are more open to newness are more likely to use Facebook to engage with intellectual topics for the purpose of sharing information.

People who are more conscientious write more frequently about their children for the purpose of sharing information and communicating, perhaps in "an indirect form of competitive parenting."

While this study is limited in the sense that it only focused on participants' self-reported behavior on Facebook, it provides an interesting window into how the world of social media really is a reflection of what goes on in the real world.

It looks like what we all feared might actually be true: Facebook is real life.