It seems that our like clicks by themselves can be pretty good indicators of what makes us tick. In 2015 David Stillwell and Youyou Wu, both at the University of Cambridge, and Michal Kosinski of Stanford University demonstrated that algorithms can evaluate what psychologists call the Big Five dimensions of personality quite accurately just by examining a Facebook user’s likes. These dimensions—openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism—are viewed as representing the basic dimensions of personality. The degree to which they are present in individuals describes who those people are.
The researchers trained their algorithm using data from more than 70,000 Facebook users. All the participants had earlier filled out a personality questionnaire, and so their Big Five profile was known. The computer then went through the Facebook accounts of these test subjects looking for likes that are often associated with certain personality characteristics. For example, extroverted users often give a thumbs-up to activities such as “partying” or “dancing.” Users who are especially open may like Spanish painter Salvador Dalí.
Then the investigators had the program examine the likes of other Facebook users. If the software had as few as 10 for analysis, it was able to evaluate that person about as well as a co-worker did. Given 70 likes, the algorithm was about as accurate as a friend. With 300, it was more successful than the person’s spouse. Even more astonishing to the researchers, feeding likes into their program enabled them to predict whether someone suffered from depression or took drugs and even to infer what the individual studied in school.