This week, researchers from the University of Cambridge and Stanford University released a study indicating that Facebook may be better at judging people’s personalities than their closest friends, their spouses, and in some cases, even themselves. The study compared people’s Facebook “Likes” to their own answers in a personality questionnaire, as well as the answers provided by their friends and family, and found that Facebook outperformed any human, no matter their relation to the subjects.
The researchers began with a 100-item personality questionnaire that went viral after David Stillwell,apsychometricsprofessoratCambridge, posted it on Facebook back in 2007. Respondents answered questions that were meant to root out five key personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Based on that survey, the researchers scored each respondent in all five traits.
Then, the researchers created an algorithm and fed it with everyrespondent’spersonalityscores, as well as their “Likes,” to which subjects voluntarily gave researchers access. The researchers only included “Likes”thatrespondentssharedwithat least 20 other respondents. That enabled the model to connect certain “Likes” to certain personality traits. If, for instance, several people who liked Snooki on Facebook also scored high in the extroverted category, the system would learn that Snooki lovers are more outgoing. The more “Likes” the system saw, the better its judgment became.
In the end, the researchers found that with information on just ten Facebook “Likes,” the algorithm was more accurate than the average person’s colleague. With 150 “Likes,” it could outsmart people’s families, and with 300 “Likes,”itcouldbestaperson’sspouse.
While the researchers admit the results were surprising, they say there’s good reason for it. For starters, computers don’t forget. While our judgment of people may change based on our most recent — or most dramatic — interactions with them, computers give a person’s entire history equal weight. Computers alsodon’thaveexperiencesoropinionsof their own. They’re not limited by their own cultural references, and they don’t find certain personality traits, likes, or interests good or bad. “Computers don’t understand that certain personalities are more socially desirable,” Kosinski says. “Computers don’t like any of us.”