When we’re scrolling along Facebook checking out the status updates of all our friends and clicking that seemingly friendly “like” button when we see a post about someone’s new hair style or a witty quote another friend has posted, it may reveal more about us than we intend.
Our likes reveal us as fans of country music or Beyonce, a football fanatic or NASCAR groupie but those friendly “like” buttons can also out us as married or single, an extrovert, or whether we prefer cigarettes or alcohol as our vice of choice.
Researchers at Cambridge University recently published findings from a study involving 58,000 volunteers and what they found may surprise us. Just by studying our Facebook “likes,” researchers can tell how intelligent we are, how happy we are, our political leanings, and a host of other personal traits, including our religion, race and sexual orientation.
As we decompress at the end of the day – or constantly throughout the day while we should be working – checking out what our friends are up to via the online social network, who would have thought that a quick “like” of a post saying “Life is like a roller coaster. It has its ups and downs. But it’s your choice to scream or enjoy the ride” could reveal how old we are or the color of our skin? Sure, clicking “like” on a picture of President Obama with a tag line that says “Impeach” might hint we are Republican, but Cambridge researchers can figure out our political leanings with much subtler references to our online “likes.” Scary or brilliant?
Facebook launched the “like” button just four years ago and the small thumbs-up symbol has become as iconic as the Nike Swoosh or Coke’s ribbons. According to Facebook, roughly 2.7 billion new “likes” are hit every day – from songs to pop stars and TV shows, we share our tastes in the stroke of the keyboard.
These surprisingly accurate personal portraits, according to researchers, proved 88 percent accurate for determining male sexuality, 95 percent accurate in distinguishing African-American from Caucasian-American, and 85 percent for differentiating Republican from Democrat. Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82 percent of cases and relationship status and substance abuse was predicted with accuracy between 65 percent and 73 percent.
Businesses looking to cash in from customers via personalized marketing may love the new study, but those campaigning for online privacy are cringing at the news. The study found that the best predictors of high intelligence include liking “Thunderstorms”, The Colbert Report, “Science”, and “Curly Fries.” Low intelligence, it found, was indicated by likes for “Sephora,” “I Love Being A Mom,” and “Lady Antebellum.”
So what does it say about those of us who like both Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead? Our “like” of zombie killing might say we are loners who consider a possible un-dead apocalypse an exciting prospect for the future, while our equal affection for the lives of 1920s English aristocracy shows a longing for a past way of life with more formality and pomp.
Some of us may display a dichotomy of traits, but researchers found more straightforward assessments of our personality. For instance, men who liked professional wrestling were more likely to be straight than those who liked the song-and-dance show “Glee.” – no shocker there. The study also found drinking game aficionados were more outgoing than fans of fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett. People who preferred pop songstress Jennifer Lopez usually had more Facebook friends than those who favored heavy metal music.
Sharing our likes might not seem intrusive, but it allows insight into our individual behavior in areas that are far more personal than we realize. Some things should stay private, but just for the record we really “like” curly fries and thunderstorms.