With more than two billion people using the Internet and countless more expected to come online as the world becomes more interconnected, the sheer volume of posts on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other social networking sites is overwhelming. Though many of these posters remain wary about how much of their private lives they are willing to share online, we are often more candid about our feelings and inner lives than we realize. The written language contained in these billions of posts contains a wealth of psychological information on posters and researchers are beginning to realize that.
Along with research looking at the use of social media in catching people planning to commit suicide, the possibility of catching the kind of emotional problems that can lead to violence such as the Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech shootings is being taken seriously. Facebook already has anti-suicide policies in place as well as policies for having users report threats of suicide or violence. But can what people post online provide real insight into the underlying personalities of posters?
It has long been recognized that the kind of language we use often reflects different personality traits. For example, people scoring high in neuroticism often make frequently first-person statements using "I, me, mine", while people high in extraversion typically use positive emotion words ("great, happy, amazing"). Other studies linking language to self-report measures of personality have also turned up consistent findings that personality and language are strongly linked.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.