Unit 12: Personality and the Internet

Most personality psychologists agree that there are five basic personality traits, often referred to as the “Big 5.” These are the five traits:
  1. Extroversion
    • Includes characteristics like excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness.
  2. Agreeableness
    • Includes traits like trust, altruism, kindness, and affection.
  3. Conscientiousness
    • Includes attributes like thoughtfulness, good impulse control, and goal-directed behaviors.
  4. Neuroticism
    • Includes the tendency to be emotionally unstable, be anxious, moody, irritable, and sad.
  5. Openness
    • Includes characteristics such as imagination and insight, and having a broad range of interests.

Everyone lies somewhere in between the two polar ends of each trait, and there are many tests you can take which will tell you where you stand. Two reliable tests include the Five Factor Personality Test and the Big Five Personality Test. I took both of these tests and got similar results in both of them. Both tests said I was average for extroversion, high in agreeableness, low in neuroticism, and average for openness. The only difference was in conscientiousness; the first test said I scored high in conscientiousness, and the second said I was only average in it.

I think that my results match my own conception of my personality. I like to think that I am agreeable and open, and not neurotic. I’d say most of the time I am pretty extroverted, but I occasionally do introverted things. For conscientiousness, I’d say I’m more moderate like the second test said. I am definitely goal-oriented, but I can be distracted easily too.

There are up pros and cons to being either high or low in any of the five factors. For neuroticism, I think it’s definitely good to score low, because people who score low tend to be more relaxed and confident. As for extroversion, many people would say that it’s good to score high in this trait. However, Susan Cain did a Ted talk called “The Power of Introverts” which explains why we, as a society, need to appreciate introverts. Work and school environments are typically tailored exclusively to extroverts, and there is definitely a pressure to be extroverted. Although, as Susan Cain points out in her Ted Talk, introverts tend to have better ideas, be more thoughtful, and make better leaders overall.

Though these personality tests seem to be pretty accurate in predicting personality traits, they are not accurate in predicting internet use. For example, people who text a lot are not more neurotic than the rest of the population, people who post on Facebook a lot are not any less conscientious than everyone else, etc. This was shown in Professor Gernsbacher’s summary document “Proportion of Variance in Internet Use Explained by Personality Traits.” A study by Bucker, Castille, & Sheets found that none of the big five personality traits predicted problematic internet or texting use; the only thing that did was age. Similarly, a study by Correa, Hinsley, & de Zuniga again found the big five traits don’t predict social media use, but again age does. According to a study by Moore and McElroy however, extroversion does predict the number of Facebook friends a person has, but it does not predict the time they’ve spent on Facebook or the number of years they’ve had it. Many other studies have come to similar conclusions; you can’t guess a person’s personality based on their internet usage.

It turns out that you can’t even assume things about a person’s personality based on their online avatar. According to an article called “What Does your Avatar Say About You?” people try to naturally represent themselves in their avatars, however it’s hard to get to know much about them solely  based on that. You can gain a little information about agreeableness and extroversion, but even there the correlations are small. The article states that people overestimate their ability to learn something about others from their avatar.

In 2015, the Huffington Post reported that a study links selfies to narcissism and psychopathy. So in other words, the Huffington post was saying that taking selfies is linked to antisocial behavior, lacking the ability to love, being selfish, and having an unrealistic view of one’s own talents. This story spread through other news sources like USA Today, Fox2News, MTV, TIME Magazine, and Chicago Tribune. However, these news sources failed to look at the proportion of variances which explains how significant the data is. What the study actually found was that participants’ self rating of their machiavellenism does not significantly explain the number of selfies taken, and neither does their self rating of psychopathy, or narcissism. The one characteristic that did explain the number of selfies taken was the number of other photos the person posted on social media. So basically the media twisted the findings of the study, and again this study agrees with the previous ones that personality does not affect internet use.

Speaking of selfies, IMT Staff’s article “The Light Side: Why your ‘Selfies’ Never Look Good” explains why most people think they look more attractive in the mirror than in their selfies. What you see in your selfies is not just a mirror image, but is actually you. Odds are you see yourself more in the mirror than you do in selfies, and for this reason the face in your selfies looks unfamiliar. Your face is most likely asymmetrical, and as a result, your mirror image and true image don’t match up- your features won’t curve or tilt the way you’re used to. However, conventional photos of you, taken by others might look slightly better because they’re taken at a farther distance, and typically use better camera.


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