Online social networking sites have become a huge part of socializing. People 30 and younger, in particular, use Facebook and My Space to interact with friends throughout the day. However, there has been very little research on whether the people behind the page are the same people face to face. One prevailing theory in psychology is that people use their social networking pages to protect an idealized version of themselves, not the person they really are.
In one of the first studies to look at this question, researchers found that people's social networking pages seem to match their authentic personalities. Psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin and Johannes Gutenberg-University in Germany recruited 236 female college students in Germany and the United States ages 17 to 22. Using a number of psychological measures, the researchers assessed the personalities of the participants and had 19 research assistants then peruse the participants' online social networking pages to form impressions on their personality.
The study, published this week in the journal Psychological Science showed that peoples' profiles really do reflect their true selves. It was easiest to authenticate such personality traits as extroversion and openness from social networking pages and harder to gauge neuroticism. But, overall, people didn't idealize their Facebook selves, as some researchers suspected.
Instead, the authors wrote, "Online social networks might be an efficient medium for expressing and communicating real personality, a finding that may help explain their popularity." It's likely that interactions with friends keep people honest, the researchers said.
A word of caution: This study didn't attempt to identify or measure people who use online social networking pages to perpetrate fraud or for other nefarious purposes. A stranger you meet on a social networking site is still a stranger.
— Shari Roan
Photo credit: Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press / Associated Press