In an open-access research article by University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center titled “Personality, Gender, and Age in the Language of Social Media: The Open-Vocabulary Approach”, a group of researchers* analyzed the “700 million words, phrases, and topic instances” collected from the Facebook messages of 75,000 volunteers. These participants also took standard personality tests, and researchers discovered “striking variations in language with personality, gender, and age”. For example, they searched for which words distinguished males from females, old from young, and extraverts from introverts.
World Well-Being Project
The study of language used on Facebook is part of the university’s World Well-Being Project, which hopes to develop “techniques for measuring psychological and physical well-being based on language in social media”.
The researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center looked for the words or phrases that best predicted, for example, whether someone was a male or female. This explains why many of the results were fairly stereotypical (e.g., shopping and hairdos vs. video games and sports).
Here are a few more results:
- Men used the possessive “my” when talking about their partners more often than women used the words “my” together with terms such as “boyfriend” or “husband.”
- Men used more profanity.
- Men mentioned more objects such as “Xbox”.
- Women tended to use words like “her” or “amazing” when discussing their partners.
- Women used more words to express emotion, such as “excited,” and more of the first-person singular (the verb form used to indicate the speaker as the subject of the verb).
- Women mention more psychological and social processes (a characteristic mode of social interaction) such as “love you” and the emoticon representation of love: “<3".
No big surprises here. Young people were inclined to write about school, while lacing their dialogue with curse words. The mid-20s group discussed work, beer, and weddings. And older participants conversed about their children and family.
Last, they asked volunteers to take a personality test and compared the words they used to where those words fell on scales of personality traits such as extraversion, introversion, emotional stability, or neuroticism. No shockers here either. Extraverts wrote about parties; neurotics love swearing; and it appears that emotional stability is tied to being a sports fan, which is a surprise.
Graphic Credits: University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center
“In our open-vocabulary technique, the data itself drives a comprehensive exploration of language that distinguishes people, finding connections that are not captured with traditional closed-vocabulary word-category analyses.” This study’s language analyses goes well beyond simply concluding that people living in high elevations discuss the mountains and that neurotic people use terms such as “sick of” and “depressing”. This research suggests new conclusions, for example, that an active lifestyle indicates emotional stability.
*Researchers: H. Andrew Schwartz mail, Johannes C. Eichstaedt, Margaret L. Kern, Lukasz Dziurzynski, Stephanie M. Ramones, Megha Agrawal, Achal Shah, Michal Kosinski, David Stillwell, Martin E. P. Seligman, and Lyle H. Ungar
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