Widgets Magazine

Researchers find computers are better predictors of personality than friends, family

In a study published on Jan. 12, Stanford and University of Cambridge researchers found that computers are better able to judge a human’s personality than other people are.

The researchers determined that a computer that is mining Facebook “likes” will do better in predicting personality than the person’s friends, family or colleagues. However, spouses did nearly as well as the computer in judging personality.

The study, “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans,” focused on five areas of personality known as the “Big Five”: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

To determine relative ability to judge personality, researchers first collected self-assessments about their personality from 82,220 volunteers using a 100-item questionnaire. The human judges used a 10-item questionnaire to judge the subject’s personality while a computer mined each volunteer’s “likes” to produce a digital set of judgments.

The computer performed better than a work colleague (“better” meaning closer to the subject’s self-assessment) after analyzing 10 “likes,” better than a friend/roommate after analyzing 70 “likes,” better than family members after analyzing 150 “likes” and better than a spouse after analyzing 300 “likes.”

People on Facebook had, on average, 277 “likes” for the computer to mine.

The team included Michael Kosinski, a postdoctoral fellow in the computer science department, Wu Youyou, a doctoral student at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Center and David Stillwell, a Cambridge researcher.

The researchers note in their abstract that “computers outpacing humans in personality judgment presents significant opportunities and challenges in the areas of psychological assessment, marketing, and privacy.”

Contact Alice Phillips at alicep1 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Alice Phillips

Alice Phillips '15 is Managing Editor of News at The Stanford Daily. Previously, she worked as the paper's Deputy Editor, Chief Copy Editor, a News Desk Editor and a News Staff Writer. Alice is a biology major from Los Angeles, California.
  • gettingwell

    There are many elements to this study. Let’s take one – impulsivity, which should be a multifaceted judgment relating to one’s own feeling brain and especially lower brain, whose signature is instinctual survival reactions.

    The self-assessed correlation score was .52, which was better than the computer score of .28, which was better than the .26 social contacts score.

    I interpret the impulsivity scores as people internally knowing who they really are better than they display externally. A finding of the “duh” variety, and counter to the study’s headlines.

    What do you think about this study’s statement? “Furthermore, in the future, people might abandon their own psychological judgments and rely on computers when making important life decisions, such as choosing activities, career paths, or even romantic partners. It is possible that such data-driven decisions will improve people’s lives.”

    I think that’s generally possible. Whether that’s individually possible depends on who you really are.

    If all your life you’ve accepted being constantly told what to do, and accepted being forced to do things “for your own good” then yes, you may accept a computer program as a substitute for your parents’ or some other external party’s authority over your life.

    If this describes you, I ask: When do you get to live your own life?