Social media has opened up a new digital world for psychology research. Four researchers will be discussing new methods of language analysis, and how social media can be leveraged to study personality, mental and physical health, and cross-cultural differences. The speakers will be presenting their research during the symposium “Finding Psychological Signal in a Billion Tweets: Measurement Through the Language of Social Media,” at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) 16th Annual Convention in Long Beach, California.
Collaborating with computer scientists
Researchers have long measured people’s thoughts, feelings, and personalities using survey questions. The widespread use of Twitter and Facebook has afforded new approaches to social science research, and requires new techniques to analyze and interpret data using computer science methods. These techniques allow researchers the ability to generate insights from large-scale data sets.
“Collaborations between psychologists and computer scientists can yield studies and insights that would not likely have been conceived independently by researchers from either field,” says Andy Schwartz of the University of Pennsylvania.
A study utilizing open-vocabulary analysis found striking variations in language with personality, gender, and age. Certain words and phrases can provide novel and detailed insights. For instance, men used the possessive ‘my’ when mentioning their ‘wife’ or ‘girlfriend’ more often than women used ‘my’ with ‘husband’ or ‘boyfriend.’ Open-vocabulary analysis can find connections that are unanticipated and often are not captured by other analysis techniques.
“Data-driven techniques are mostly limited to finding correlations rather than causation…Future analyses are moving beyond words to capturing less ambiguous meanings from language,” explains lead researcher Andy Schwartz. Collaboration between social and personality psychologists, and computer scientists, will be integral to moving that research forward.
Assessing personality with Facebook
Researchers have found that words used on Facebook are surprisingly reliable indicators of personality. Their results are published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers utilized predictive algorithms of the language to create efficient large-scale personality assessments. The automated language-based models of traits were consistent with the participants’ self-reported personality measurements.
Lead author Gregory Park confirms the reliability of the language-based model: “We evaluated the method in several ways. Predictions from the automated methods can accurately predict the scores the users receive on personality tests. They are consistent with personality ratings made by the users’ actual friends, and other personality-related outcomes, such as the number of friends, or self-reported political attitudes.”
Another study, published in the journal Assessment, analyzed Facebook statuses of study participants using open-language analysis. The researchers generated word clouds that visually illustrated how several personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness) appear on Facebook.
The study found that certain phrases are predictive of specific personality traits. For example, individuals who score high in neuroticism on a self-reported personality assessments are more likely to use words like sadness, loneliness, fear and pain. Analyzing this data may provide novel connections that may not be apparent in traditional written questionnaires and surveys.
Tracking community health through Twitter