With the proliferation of social networking sites, we are increasingly reliant on our online profiles to accurately present our personalities. But do they? Dr. Scott Counts of Microsoft Research’s VIBE Group explored just how people’s perceptions are impacted by the advent of online identities.
In a recent presentation of findings, Dr. Counts discussed studies that delved into the ways we self-present our personalities via online profiles and how others perceive those presentations. The results were interesting, and proved the promising reliability and accuracy of the newfound ability to “right-click” on someone via their online profiles.
Below are the insight summaries from two of the Mircrosoft studies that focused on how people perceive personalities via online profiles.
STUDY ONE: Automatic Trait Inferences
The first study demonstrated that people encode personality characteristics sub-consciously, and they are more likely to remember implied personality traits (i.e. you can infer that Ted is a hick because “he likes to go muddin’ and drink in the cornfields”).
Secondly, it showed that coherence (how clear your information fits together), and the number of attributes (how much you say), are two primary factors of your online profile that strongly correlate with a reader’s memory of it.
Taken together though, it demonstrated that if a personality trait is sub-consciously implied, then an abundance of attributes is actually negatively correlated with recall.
- If people can imply a personality trait, they will have a better recall of you if you are more coherent and include less attributes.
- If people cannot imply a personality trait, than being less coherent and supplying more attributes is helpful for others to remember you.
Ideally, you can say very little about yourself and be remembered, so long as your story is clear about who you are.
STUDY 2: Thin Slices of Online Profile Attributes
Dr. Counts found Gladwell’s statement – “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and people based on very narrow slices of experience” – to extend beyond face-to-face interactions to online interactions.
- Certain attributes contribute more meaningfully to the interpretation of a profile than others, such as favorite TV shows
- Users can make predictive inferences using condensed profiles
- Inferences made from an “about me statement” are similar to inferences made from an entire profile
- With only 5 attributes, people can do a pretty go job of determining if they would befriend a person
- With a small amount of information, people are generally observed similarly by a number of readers
Thus, if your online profile merely includes a few free form attributes like your photo, favorite TV shows, and interests, people will get the gist.
Taken together, Dr. Counts Microsoft studies demonstrated that: we subconsciously infer other people’s personalities from their online profiles; these inferences are actually remembered much better than listed content; we form pretty accurate perceptions of personality from online profiles; and we need almost no information to infer personalities from online profiles.