Who You Are on Facebook Is Probably Pretty Much Who You Are

A study finds that our personalities, from the physical world to the digital, are portable.

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ReadWriteWeb has dug up a fascinating study from the psychology department at UT Austin, which found that our Facebook identities are...pretty much like our in-person identities.

To make that determination, Dr. Sam Gosling and his colleagues first asked participants to complete the Ten Item Personality Inventory, which asked them to assess the extent to which factors like extroversion, anxiety, and calmness applied to them. The researchers used the results of those surveys to assess the participants according to the big five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. They then compared those findings to the information represented in participants' Facebook profiles, including the number of photos in those profiles, the number of words in participants' "About Me" sections, the number of posts on their walls, the number of groups they belong to, and their total number of friends.

What the researchers found was a big correlation between the personalities represented on Facebook and the personalities suggested by the test. The extroverts had more Facebook friends than the introverts; those who were open to new people and experiences in the physical world replicated that tendency in the digital. "The study determined that online social networks are not an escape from reality," RWW's Alicia Eler put it, "but rather a microcosm of peoples' larger social worlds and an extension of offline behaviors."

That's not surprising, necessarily, but it's interesting from the perspective of identity itself as something that's both expressed and mediated by digital spaces. We tend to assume, perhaps wrongly, that our online selves are separate from our "real-world" ones. ("Real" world, after all.) And that who we are online is somehow secondary to who we are everywhere else.

But digital spaces -- Facebook and all its counterparts -- allow us to ask in ways we couldn't previously: How portable is personality, actually? How malleable is identity? And to what extent is the whole concept of "the real world" itself in need of some rethinking?

Image: S. Pytel/Shutterstock.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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