Facebook's smartest users love curly fries, Stephen Colbert and science; gay users like Mac Cosmetics, while straight users like Shaquille O'Neal. A new study by British researchers has found that analysis of Facebook "likes" is an extremely effective way to predict personality traits and personal attributes.
Using likes, researchers at the Psychometrics Centre at the University of Cambridge were able to determine whether someone was black or white with 95 percent accuracy, Democrat or Republican with 85 percent accuracy, and whether someone smokes, uses drugs, or drinks alcohol in more than two thirds of cases. They were even able to predict, in some cases, whether a user's parents had gotten divorced.
More than 58,000 American Facebook users were involved in the study conducted last year. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday.
David Stillwell, one of the authors of the paper, says that "likes" will probably one day be used by advertisers to target specific products to individual people. He says the process is similar to how some retailers have begun tracking their customers' purchases in order to determine highly specific traits—last year, Target caught flak due to a New York Times expose that found it was able to predict that certain customers were pregnant based on their purchasing habits. With Facebook likes, Stillwell says advertisers and retailers have an even larger database of information to play with.
"What's nice about Facebook likes is they actually mean something—once you understand a certain Facebook like is associated to a trait, that tells you something concrete about the person," he says. "You can tell what extroverts like to do with their time, what people with liberal-leaning tendencies actually do. It gives us an understanding of the psychology of these people."
While some might think that's a little too Big Brother-ish for most, Stillwell points out that Facebook has privacy settings that allow people to hide their interests and that users offer the information voluntarily.
While some of the most predictive likes make sense—extroverts like "beer pong," spontaneous people like the group "not dying," competitive people like the group "I hate you," and people with high IQ's like "Motzart"—others are seemingly unrelated, but nonetheless correlated to certain traits. Heterosexual males like "Being Confused After Waking Up From Naps," alcohol drinkers like "Getting a text that says 'I miss you,' " and smokers like "Under Armour."
"Some of it is likely due to chance, but even if it's random chance, liking 'Morgan Freeman's Voice' is still one of the 10 most predictive pages for people with high IQ's," Stillwell says. "People need to be aware that these likes are giving away more information than you think and that it can be quite personal."
Most Predictive Facebook Page 'Likes' by Personality Trait or Attribute
|High IQ||Low IQ||Satisfied With Life||Dissatisfied With Life|
|The Godfather||Jason Aldean||Sarah Palin||Science|
|Mozart||I Love Being a Mom||Glenn Beck||Stewie Griffin|
|The Colbert Report||Harley Davidson||Jesus||Atreyu (A metal band)|
|Michael Jordan||Video Games||Austin, Texas||Swimming||I Support My President||Halloween|
|Modeling||Programming||Big Mommas Movies||Pau Gasol||Tyga||ASPCA|
|Flip Cup||Anime||Milkshakes||Love And Basketball||Bonfires|
|Parents Separated||Parents Not Separated|
|I'm Sorry I Love You||Making Dirty Innuendos Out of Perfectly Innocent Things|
|If I'm With You Then I Don't Need to Be With Anyone Else||Watching Peoples Lives Fall Apart Via Status Updates and News Feeds|