Social-networking sites are a way to find out about people you’re curious about but have never met—say, a prospective employee you’re deciding whether to hire. But when you scan someone’s profile, you probably expect a little fudging: an overly flattering photograph, a generously phrased blurb in the “about me” section. A study in the March issue of Psychological Science, however, suggests that Facebook users do not skew their profiles to reflect idealistic visions of themselves.
In the study, research assistants at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Mainz in Germany viewed the Facebook profile of a study participant, then guessed how he or she would score on the “big five” common personality measures used in psychological research: extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and conscientiousness. Next they compared the results based on Facebook with the actual personality test scores from the profile owner and the results from four of his or her “well-acquainted friends,” who also rated the person’s personality traits. The research assistants were successful on four of the five measures—all except neuroticism, which is notoriously hard to gauge in general.
Like any guess made from limited information about a person, the personality assessments were not spot on—but they were much closer to what the person thought about themselves than could be expected from chance. This moderate correlation is equivalent to how well people can judge someone’s personality after a first impression, according to past research. So if you do check out that potential hire on Facebook before the interview, you may be able to guess whether you’ll be giving her a tour of the office the next day or pointing her toward the door.