Facebook status updates function as windows into our lives that allow us to share with the world. If you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed, chances are you are at least a little bit curious about why your friends share what they do. Why do some tend to share almost exclusively about their favorite sports team, pet, or celebrity while others seem to share every passing thought? Out of all the infinite ways we can update our Facebook statuses, why do we post what we post, and what exactly are we communicating by our posts?
A growing body of research helps explain why people share what they do online and what they hope to gain from doing so. In a recent paper, Tara Marshall and colleagues explored whether there were associations between the types of things people post in their status updates, their motivations for posting, and their personalities.1 Specifically, adult Facebook users in the U.S. completed online measures of personality (i.e., the degree to which they were extraverted, neurotic, open to new experiences, conscientious, and agreeable), neuroticism, and self-esteem, reported their typical Facebook usage, the amount of “likes” they generally receive, and the frequency and reasons for posting about topics in their status updates.
To get at motivations for posting, the researchers asked respondents to indicate the extent to which they made status updates to (a) receive validation and acceptance, (b) express themselves, (c) communicate and connect with others, and (d) sharing impersonal information (e.g. current events). They had respondents rate the extent to which they used Facebook for each of 23 reasons, representing these motives. The researchers subsequently classified the topics they wrote about into five broad categories: social activities and everyday life, intellectual topics, accomplishments, diet/exercise, and significant relationships.
The researchers found quite a few relationships between personality and what people posted:
- People high in extraversion typically posted about social activities and everyday life, motivated by using Facebook to communicate and connect
- Low self-esteem was positively correlated with posting about romantic relationships
- Conscientiousness was positively associated with child-related updates (a topic often associated with a high number of “likes”)
- Those high in narcissism used Facebook to seek validation and typically posted about their accomplishments and diet/exercise routine (and reportedly received a greater number of “likes” and comments about their accomplishments)
Of course, because this was self-report data, this study was not able to ascertain participants’ actual “likability,” and the results are only as good as their reporting of their own online behavior. That said, this study supports the notion that what we typically choose to write about us provides some insight into our personality, whether it be our exercise habits or our relationships. Our motivations for posting also often provide a window into our personality; some people usually just want to speak their mind but others post primarily to elicit social feedback from their Facebook friends. For example, the desire to feel validated, though important to all humans, appears to be stronger for those who are high in either neuroticism or narcissism. Both the content of what we post as well as our motivation for posting is often consistent across much of our status updates, much like how our personality is consistent across time and situation. Yet another reason that how we present ourselves Facebook is a reflection of who we are.
“What’s on your mind?” asks Facebook. Before you hit “post”, think about exactly what you’re sharing.
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