The study, based on personality tests and content analyses in status updates on Facebook for just over 300 Americans, is the first quantitative semantic study of its kind.

In the study, the researchers ask whether the status updates can reveal the same dark personality traits as the psychological personality tests.

“Facebook has revolutionized how people interact on the Internet, and this offers a unique opportunity for psychological research,” says Danilo Garcia, researcher at Sahlgrenska Academy’s research center, the Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health.

The Facebook users answered a scientific questionnaire with questions that test extrovert, neurotic, psychopathic, narcissistic and Machiavellian personality traits.

They also sent in their 15 most recent status updates. The contents of the status updates were then studied with algorithms for latent semantic analysis, which is a method for measuring the significance of words.

The researchers found that status updates contained information on the personality traits of psychopathy and narcissism.

“Hence, the status analyses could indicate which Facebook users demonstrated psychopathic and narcissistic personality traits in the personality tests. These people used negatively charged or odd formulations more often,” says Danilo Garcia.

The status updates that indicated psychopathy could, for example, concern prostitutes, decapitation, pornography and butchers. People with narcissistic personality traits could emphasize their own good characteristics by, for example, noting that others did not understand what true happiness is.

Neurotic personality traits, how many friends you have on Facebook and how often you update your status can also be discerned from the analysis of the status updates.

The study also shows that Facebook users with extrovert and open personalities generally have many friends on Facebook and update their status more often than others.

The study, The dark side of Facebook, is published in the scientific journal, Personality and Individual Differences.

• People with narcissistic traits are self-absorbed, self-glorifying and have an exaggerated confidence in their own abilities.
• Neurotic disorders are phobias, anxiety disorders and other disorders that arise as a result of trauma or extreme stress. These disorders are irrational, and are due to personality or other unconscious conflicts.
• People with psychopathic traits are strongly focused on their own wishes, and have a lack of empathy for others. These people often break norms and rules, and have a higher inclination to commit crime.
• People with Machiavellian traits are cynical, emotionally distant and unaffected by morals. They deceive and manipulate people in their surroundings to gain advantages.

Danilo Garcia, Doctor of Psychology, Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health, Sahlgrenska Academy.
+46 733-10 51 53

Sverker Sikström, Professor in Cognitive Psychology, Lund University
+46 70-3614333