Your Phone Usage Might Predict Your Personality Accurately

Synthia Stark

Photo by Bianca Castillo on Unsplash — Who would have thought?

As an aspiring therapist who is in her second rodeo of graduate school, I can’t help but wonder how much the field might change once I enter it. The various skills that I am learning today, such as learning how to use specific healthcare applications and tools, might become obsolete someday.

As the world ravages on with uncertainty stemming from the 2020 coronavirus, a lot of changes have been made in the field of healthcare, even in the field of mental health. For example, instead of providing therapy in-person, a lot of services have become remote instead.

It is not particularly easy to predict someone’s personality, especially when you’ve encountered someone only a couple of times. We are human, after all. However, with the help of technology, some therapists can reliably predict the patterns and trajectories that surround a client’s personality.

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash — Let's pretend that this is an outdoor therapy session.

Various technological breakthroughs, such as the unique applications of artificial intelligence, can be quite helpful, especially if a therapist wants to optimize the level of care for their client and provide a niche intervention that is catered to their individual clients’ needs.

The same can be said about others in our social circle. We usually thrive on human communication, and sometimes we need to optimize our socio-cognitive skills to make valid judgements with the people that matter the most to us, whether it is our aunts, our uncles, our parents, or even our closest friends.

The more we get to know others across a long period of time, the more we get to understand the nuances and patterns surrounding one’s behaviour. For example, a childhood friend is going to know a lot about your past personality than let’s say, a new best friend. However, neither are going to know you as intimately as a long-term romantic partner ever would.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash — The true power of friendship.

According to research conducted at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University, digitized algorithms can be designed to specifically map out and predict an individual’s personality traits. However, the caveat is that this can be done just by looking at a person’s history of Facebook likes.

From the looks of it, when the algorithm was fed with just 10 Facebook likes alone, it was able to predict one’s personality almost as accurately as a co-worker would, while 70 likes were just as accurate as a regular friend. At the highest level, at a whopping 300 likes, the algorithm was more accurate than one’s spouse.

Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash — Your partner might be stunned to know this.

Taking it a step further, another study examined the extent that personality dimensions can be predicted from smartphone use, by relying on these 6 categories:

  • Communication and social behaviour
  • Music consumption
  • App usage
  • Mobility
  • Overall phone activity
  • Day activity versus night activity

From these six parameters, psychologists noted that that out of the Big Five personality traits, only extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness were reliably linked to smartphone use.

For some insight on the Big Five personality traits overall, they operate on 5 principles, which can be easily remembered by the acronym “OCEAN”:

  • Openness versus closed-mindedness to experience
  • Conscientiousness versus lack of direction
  • Extraversion versus introversion
  • Agreeableness versus antagonism
  • Neuroticism versus emotional stability

It seems that further studies may potentially examine the dimensions of agreeableness and neuroticism in greater detail. For now, the Big Five personality traits are a great starting point for analyzing one's personality, as it is a commonly used measure across the world.

Photo by Fey Marin on Unsplash — Maybe this person is high on openness.

Something that was particularly interesting was the level of predictability surrounding some personality traits. For example, if someone wanted to examine someone’s level of good-naturedness, assertiveness, or sociableness, it could be easily examined by a thoughtful person, without the help of an algorithm.

However, with data analysis, some elements of personality might be easier to grasp. For example, someone who produces a lot of outgoing calls to a dozen people at midnight could likely be extroverted. Meanwhile, someone who sends lengthy text messages might be very thoughtful and open-minded.

Plus, someone that uses the weather and traffic apps frequently before going outside might be the diligent and conscientious type.

Photo by Valerie Elash on Unsplash — They might be conscientious.

All things considered, while this kind of technological and psychological research into the human mind is really fascinating, it does raise some major issues with the privacy and security of our personal information.

For example, it’s great that the researchers and scientists of these two aforementioned studies were able to use this data ethically to further the collective knowledge of our growing society. However, the wrong individual might want this same information for nefarious purposes.

An unregulated entity, such as a scammer, might use this as involuntary market research, indirectly assessing your personality, without your consent.

Plus, no one wants to be psychologically targeted for something as simple as liking a random Facebook page. Perhaps you only liked that page because your friend begged you to, to showcase support for their local business, or because you want to stay informed on a rather serious topic.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash — It's okay to use Facebook for fun.

Above all else, perhaps future research surrounding our personalities and our technological use will blossom into something even larger than we imagined, into something that could possibly benefit others, such as specialized educational services with less hassle.

Furthermore, there’s hope that future research studies will continue to carefully explore the ethics and legalities surrounding our phone usage, especially as more regulation is underway to ensure that we stay safe online.

Just like the previous generations before us, it’s always good to be careful about the services we use, but we shouldn’t live in fear because of it either. After all, we are in an era where technology use can be pretty handy, such as calling a loved one at work, sharing wholesome memes online, checking our emails, and many more.

The next time you might use your phone, perhaps we can think about the ways our personality influences us to do certain things. In the meantime, just be mindful of the things you are currently doing and stay safe.

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Mental Health Professional | Crisis Responder | Science Writer


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