Saturday, December 19, 2009

Social Networks Are Changing Us

Facebook Profiles Capture True Personality, According to New Psychology Research | The University of Texas at Austin
Online social networks such as Facebook are being used to express and communicate real personality, instead of an idealized virtual identity, according to new research from psychologist Sam Gosling at The University of Texas at Austin.

"I was surprised by the findings because the widely held assumption is that people are using their profiles to promote an enhanced impression of themselves," says Gosling of the more than 700 million people worldwide who have online profiles. "In fact, our findings suggest that online social networking profiles convey rather accurate images of the profile owners, either because people aren't trying to look good or because they are trying and failing to pull it off.
I think this research has missed something significant.  It's measuring the correlation between individuals' profiles and their current personalities.  What that doesn't take into account is the degree to which participating in these networks, and representing ourselves in them, changes how we act.

That is to say, I think many of us have become more extroverted and open because of our participation in social networks.  Representing ourselves in such public ways has encouraged us to become more like the representation we make of ourselves. 

Check out this research that showed that individuals who were given a height advantage in a virtual world, like Second Life, felt or acted more confident--not just in the virtual world, but also in their real-world interactions:

How Second Life Affects Real Life - TIME
...Yee recruited 50 volunteers, randomly assigned them to short or tall avatars, then instructed them to divide a virtual pool of $100 with another participant — one player would suggest how to split the pot, and the other could accept or reject the offer, with each person getting nothing if offers were rejected. People with tall avatars (three or four inches taller than the stranger avatar) negotiated more aggressively than the short ones, while short avatars were twice as likely as the tall ones to accept an unfair split — $25 versus $75.

Again, the behavior held up in real life. When Yee had the subjects shed their avatars and negotiate face-to-face, sitting down, people who had inhabited tall avatars bargained more aggressively, suggesting unfair splits more often. And participants who had had short avatars accepted less-than-even money more often than the tall ones. How tall the people were themselves became less important, if only temporarily, than the height of their online alter egos.
Note to self:  stop finding fault with those who enhance their avatars to make themselves more attractive.  :)

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