Many people use MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites to create personalized web pages that often include information we might call part of a "digital first impression"--music they like, books they read, TV shows they watch, etc.--the types of things that come up in conversation that we use to judge someone's similarity to us and what type of person they are.
From a recruiting and assessment perspective, the most obvious use of this information is to identify potential candidates and gather additional information about applicants to judge their qualifications and fit. This is already happening and these "digital selves" may increase in importance with the introduction of new web services.
Aside from legal concerns, an important issue is the accuracy of these judgments. Does the fact that someone has a link to classical music on their page mean anything? How about whether or not they provide contact information?
Much of the work done on how physical and digital displays relate to personality has been done by Dr. Sam Gosling at the University of Texas and Dr. Peter Rentfrow at the University of Cambridge. In addition, several studies have been done in both applied and university settings. Most of these studies have used the Big 5 as a way to describe adult personality.
Overall, research suggests people are fairly accurate in making personality judgments about people based on their web pages--this is particularly true when judging openness to experience and extraversion. Specifically, here's what different aspects of a web page have been linked to:
- Including information about one's hometown/region: Higher on agreeableness and conscientiousness, lower on neuroticism
- Expressing a lot of personal beliefs/emotions: Higher on neuroticism and openness to experience, lower on agreeableness and conscientiousness
- Having a blog: Higher on extraversion and openness to experience
- Seeking explicit feedback (e.g., comments): Lower on neuroticism
- Having links to Internet/computer sites: Lower on extraversion
- Having links to visual arts, having a music lyrics category (strongest relationship): Higher on openness to experience
- Having a webcam: Lower on agreeableness
- Linking to one's resume/vitae, posting family pictures, or having a visitor counter: Higher on conscientiousness
What about specific aspects of a person, such as personal tastes? Here's what research has uncovered about specific preferences:
Much of the work done on how personal tastes reflect personality has focused on musical preferences. Here's what various musical tastes tend to correlate with (you can take this assessment here):
- Reflective and complex (e.g., jazz, classical): Higher on openness to experience (strongest overall relationship), higher verbal ability
- Intense and rebellious (e.g., rock, alternative): Higher on openness to experience, higher verbal ability
- Upbeat and conventional (e.g., country, pop): Higher on extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness; lower verbal ability
- Energetic and rhythmic (e.g., hip-hop, electronica): Higher on extraversion
Here's a sample of how people that liked certain books, movies, and social activities described themselves:
- Fiction & Literature: Creative
- Business: Attractive, successful
- Science Fiction: Intelligent, weird
- Fantasy: Weird
- Cooking: Lovable
- Adventure: Fun, lovable
- Comedy: Funny
- Independent: Creative, unique
- Science Fiction: Kind, weird
- Clubbing: Attractive, fun, socially adaptable
- Bowling: Funny
- Computer Gaming: Intelligent, weird
The findings are intriguing, but we desperately need more research in this area, particularly looking at aspects of the observer that influence accuracy and research into additional forms of information linkages, such as tags. Hopefully over time we'll uncover more about how well (or poorly) the online self matches up with who you meet in person.
"e-Perceptions: Personality impressions based on personal websites"
"The do re mi's of everyday life: The structure and personality correlates of music preferences"
"Message in a ballad: The role of music preferences in interpersonal perception"
"Personality impressions based on Facebook profiles"
"Personality in cyberspace: Personal websites as media for personality expressions and impressions"
"A social network caught in the web"