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Profiles unmasked

Elizabeth Martin

You may be surprised to learn what your Facebook page is saying about you. A recent study by a doctoral student in the Department of Psychological Sciences found that Facebook users are revealing a lot more information about themselves than they realize.

Research findings by the study’s lead author, Elizabeth Martin, show that Facebook activity can be a window into psychological health.

It turns out that social-media profiles are filled with useful psychological information about the writer’s personality and mental health. Your Facebook wall conversation, your lists of “likes” and even the photography you share give insight into who you are.

And for psychologists, using that wealth of freely given information may be a new way to learn about human behavior.

In a first-of-its-kind study, Martin found evidence that Facebook behavior is indicative of specific personality characteristics that include a range of psychological symptoms and disorders, from social withdrawal to having odd beliefs and even paranoia.

“This is the first study we know of that has used Facebook as an objective way of examining specific personality characteristics. It supports the idea that Facebook analysis could be used for diagnostic measures and could help paint a clearer clinical picture of someone,” Martin says.

By examining Facebook communication, Martin and her team could see how the study participants expressed themselves in a way that was natural to them. She believes the methodology could be expanded so researchers can look at people’s Internet use to collect additional information.

Studies of psychological diagnosis typically use questionnaire methods, and those can be affected by biases. Participants may be trying to impress an examiner with their answers; they may be embarrassed about revealing certain facts; or they may not have accurate memories. By eliminating self-reporting, Martin’s study had the advantage of being a more accurate form of measurement, she says. 

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