How you construct your status updates may say more about you than you think. Researchers in Sweden recently completed a study in which they were able to identify whether a person has psychopathic traits simply by looking at their Facebook statuses.
“We looked at people’s Facebook status updates and analyzed whether there was a relationship between the texts and people’s personality traits,” Lund University psychology professor Sverker Sikström told The Local. The Swedish researchers reviewed status updates by 304 Americans in combination with personality tests to come to their conclusion: that Facebook status updates may say a lot about a person’s signs of psychosis.
In the study, the researchers focused on personality traits, such as neuroticism and extraversion, but also on the “Dark Triad” of personality: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Psychopathy, which is not to be confused with psychosis, is defined as an aspect of personality, or a form of personality disorder. Typically, psychopaths exhibit antisocial behavior and have a low capacity for empathy or remorse. The term sociopath is often used interchangeably with psychopath; they are commonly used to describe unfeeling killers or criminals who repeatedly violate the law, or hurt others, without feeling bad. There is, however, no actual diagnosis known as “psychopathy” — the medical world typically calls it something else. The 4th and 5th editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) refer to it as Antisocial (Dissocial) Personality Disorder (ASPD), characterized by “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.”
The researchers first had the participants answer a survey that would test for personality traits. Then the users submitted a number of Facebook status updates, which were analyzed with an algorithm that measured the significance of words. “The status analyses could indicate which Facebook users demonstrated psychopathic and narcissistic personality traits in the personality tests,” Danilo Garcia, a researcher at the Centre for Ethics, Law, and Mental Health at Sahlgrenska Academy, said in a statement. In their Abstract, the researchers noted that the status updates of the people whose traits were identified as psychopathic or narcissistic had more “odd” and negative status updates, often referring to pornography, butchers, prostitutes, or decapitation.
Whether the researchers looked too deeply into these status updates (it's impossible to diagnose a person based on digital fronts) or not, they believe the study is a first step into further research. “Facebook has revolutionized how people interact on the Internet, and this offers a unique opportunity for psychological research,” Garcia said in the news release.
If you’re worried about coming off as narcissistic or psychopathic on social media, Sikström told The Local that just because someone may show psychopathic personality traits on Facebook doesn’t mean they are actually psychopaths. Diagnosing a psychopath is most commonly done by psychiatric professionals with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), a test rating people on their psychopathic tendencies. And a straightforward tip for all Facebook users, no matter their personality, Sikström says: “Try to be normal, and don’t brag too much.”
Source: Garcia D, Sikström S. The dark side of Facebook: Semantic representations of status updates predict the Dark Triad of personality. Personality and Individual Differences. 2013.