This shows social media icons and a person.
“We present ourselves in line with our cultural frameworks,” she said, “and others can discern our ‘cultured persona’ through meaning making of our posts.” Credit: Neuroscience News

Social Media Posts: Misleading Windows to Our Personalities

Summary: New research reveals that social media posts, particularly on Facebook, can lead to misconceptions about our personalities.

The study analyzed Facebook status updates and found significant differences between how users perceive themselves and how others view them. Updates with multimedia content like photos and videos provided a more accurate reflection of personality than text-only posts.

This research highlights the complexities of digital identity construction and the potential for misinterpretation in the realm of social media.

Key Facts:

  1. There’s often a discrepancy between self-perception and how others perceive us based on social media posts.
  2. Multimedia content in status updates leads to more accurate assessments of personality traits than text-only posts.
  3. The study found that social media perceptions align with cultural norms related to gender and ethnicity.

Source: Cornell University

People may form inaccurate impressions about us from our social media posts, finds new Cornell University research that is the first to examine perceptions of our personalities based on online posts.

An analysis of Facebook status updates found substantial discrepancies between how viewers saw the authors across a range of personality traits, and the authors’ self-perceptions. Viewers rated the Facebook users on average as having lower self-esteem and being more self-revealing, for example, than the users rated themselves.

Status updates containing photos, video or links in addition to text facilitated more accurate assessments than those with just text, the researchers found. Overall, they said, the study sheds light on the dynamic process by which a cyber audience tries to make sense of who we are from isolated fragments of shared information, jointly constructing our digital identity.

“The impression people form about us on social media based on what we post can differ from the way we view ourselves,” said Qi Wang, professor of psychology and director of the Culture & Cognition Lab. “A mismatch between who we are and how people perceive us could influence our ability to feel connected online and the benefits of engaging in social media interaction.”

Wang is the lead author of “The Self Online: When Meaning-Making is Outsourced to the Cyber Audience,” published in PLOS One.

Prior research has focused on perceptions of personality traits gleaned from personal websites, such as blogs or online profiles, finding that readers can assess them accurately. The Cornell researchers believe their study is the first to investigate audience perceptions of social media users through their posts, on platforms where users often don’t share cohesive personal narratives while interacting with “friends” they may know only a little or sometimes not at all.

Interestingly, the study found that Facebook status updates generated perceptions of users that were consistent with cultural norms in offline contexts concerning gender and ethnicity – even though viewers were blind to their identities.

For example, female Facebook users were rated as more extraverted than male users, in line with general findings that women score higher on extraversion. White Facebook users were seen as being more extraverted and having greater self-esteem than Asian users, whose cultures place more emphasis on modesty, Wang said.

“We present ourselves in line with our cultural frameworks,” she said, “and others can discern our ‘cultured persona’ through meaning making of our posts.”

The scholars said future research should explore this “outsourced meaning-making process” with larger samples of posts, and on other popular platforms such as Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter.

Wang said the findings could help developers design interfaces that allow people to express themselves most authentically. For users, misunderstandings about who they are on social media might not cause direct harm, she said, but could hinder their efforts to foster good communication and relationships.

“If people’s view of us is very different from who we actually are, or how we would like to be perceived,” Wang said, “it could undermine our social life and well-being.”

About this personality, social media, and psychology research news

Author: Becka Bowyer
Source: Cornell University
Contact: Becka Bowyer – Cornell University
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
The self online: When meaning-making is outsourced to the cyber audience” by Qi Wang et al. PLOS ONE


The self online: When meaning-making is outsourced to the cyber audience

This study examines the cyber audience’s perception of social media users’ persona based on their online posts from a cognitive meaning-making perspective. Participants (N = 158) answered questions about their personal characteristics and provided their 20 most recent Facebook status updates.

Two groups of viewers, who viewed either the text-only or multimedia version of the status updates, answered questions about the Facebook users’ personal characteristics. The viewers’ perceptions of Facebook users deviated from the users’ self-perceptions, although user characteristics that serve social motives were more accurately perceived.

Multimedia viewers were more accurate than text viewers, whereas the latter showed a greater consensus. Gender and ethnic differences of Facebook users also emerged in online person perceptions, in line with gendered and cultured characteristics.

These findings shed critical light on the dynamic interplay between social media users and the cyber audience in the co-construction of a digitally extended self.

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