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Facebook research: What our usage reveals about us

Christina DesMarais | April 2, 2013
Here’s a roundup of recent research on the social network, evaluating how much we’re using Facebook, whether it’s good at work, what it does to our egos, and more.

"Researchers created statistical models able to predict personal details using Facebook Likes alone. Models proved 88 percent accurate for determining male sexuality, 95 percent accurate distinguishing African-American from Caucasian American, and 85 percent accurate differentiating Republican from Democrat. Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82 percent of cases, and good prediction accuracy was achieved for relationship status and substance abuse--between 65 and 73 percent," states a report about the study.

Their analyses also were able to accurately determine things like intelligence, emotional stability, openness, and extraversion simply by looking at the kinds of things people liked on Facebook.

"We believe that our results, while based on Facebook Likes, apply to a wider range of online behaviors," said Michal Kosinski, Operations Director at the Psychometric Centre. "Similar predictions could be made from all manner of digital data, with this kind of secondary 'inference' made with remarkable accuracy--statistically predicting sensitive information people might not want revealed. Given the variety of digital traces people leave behind, it's becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to control."

Other universities: Facebook can make you fat

According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School, when your close friends on Facebook give your posts a thumbs up or say nice things on the social network it boosts your self-esteem. Great news, right? Not so fast.

In a series of studies the researchers found that along with that boost to your ego comes a correlated drop in self-control which can lead to unhealthy food choices. They also noted that "... greater social network use is associated with a higher body-mass index, increased binge eating, a lower credit score, and higher levels of credit-card debt for individuals with strong ties to their social network."

Yale: Young people on Facebook are ageist

Here's kind of a dumb one: Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health admit that ageism can be found "in a wide variety of societal institutions" yet felt it was important to find out whether it's also present in social networking. Huge shocker--it is.

The study involved analyzing the descriptions of 84 Facebook groups focused on older people, with the mean age of the people who wrote them being 20 to 29 years old.

"Consistent with our hypothesis, the Descriptions of all but one of these groups focused on negative age stereotypes. Among these Descriptions, 74 percent excoriated older individuals, 27 percent infantilized them, and 37 percent advocated banning them from public activities, such as shopping," the researchers wrote about the study.

No Facebook? What's wrong with you?

Even though this idea didn't come from research, per se, it's such an interesting idea I couldn't resist adding it to the pile.


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