Belfast Telegraph

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Who knows you better, your family or Facebook? The results of a new social media study might surprise you

Researchers have found that computer predictions of personality traits based on Facebook 'likes' are more accurate than those made by participants' own Facebook friends.

The 'big five' psychological traits were measured in more than 86,000 volunteers: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

By analysing just 10 'likes' the software used was more accurate at judging someone's character than a work colleague. It took 70 'likes' to beat a friend, and 150 to outperform a parent or sibling.

It's estimated the average user has racked up 227 'likes', but more than 300 were required to surpass a spouse's character assessment.

What's more, computers were better at predicting all but one of 13 real-life occurrences that the Cambridge University academics analysed - things like political leanings, depression and physical health - and with four of those they were even better than individuals at predicting their own outcomes, including substance abuse.

As the study explains, "likes are used by Facebook users to express positive association with online and offline objects, such as products, activities, sports, musicians, books, restaurants, or websites".

Particularly high accuracy was observed for openness, meaning a person's intellectual curiosity and desire for novel experiences, a trait previously believed to be hard to judge because it's not easily observable.

"Participants with high openness to experience tend to like Salvador Dali, meditation, or TED talks," lead researcher Wu Youyou states, saying that accuracy could improve even more as our 'digital footprints' increase.

So what are the implications of these personality profiling findings in the real world?

For marketers, the results offer tantalising possibilities. With a better understanding of your character traits, companies or politicians could place ads where they know they'll be most effective. Software assessments could help our decision-making abilities, too.

"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," Youyou points out.

Referencing the film Her, in which a man falls in love with a computer operating system, she believes "our research, along with development in robotics, provides empirical evidence that such a scenario is becoming increasingly likely".

And if you'd prefer not to be so easily understood? Start un-liking now.

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