Owning a pet is very popular in the U.S. The most recent survey from the American Pet Products Association estimated that 65% of American households (79.9 million) include at least one pet. The most popular household pets are, unsurprisingly, dogs (44% of households) and cats (34.9% of households) .
Psychologists have long been fascinated to uncover whether individual differences drive pet ownership and preference. Most have focused on comparing the so called cat and dog people. Perhaps driven by the natures of their respective favorite pet, cat people are stereotyped as quiet, sensitive, and unorthodox while dog people are thought of as gregarious and energetic. One of the most comprehensive studies to-date  analysed 4,565 participants who took the Big Five personality Inventory and self-identified as dog people, cat people, both or neither. They found that dog people are higher in extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness and lower in neuroticism and openness, even when controlling for gender differences. Contrary to these findings, some failed to uncover differences between the two types  or suggested the labels do little more than offer a different way of saying masculine and feminine .
To shed new light on this debate, we analysed two different online behaviors using big data from social media:
- Mentioning animal names in Facebook posts;
- Using a profile picture featuring cat or a dog on Twitter.
Continue reading Personality Profiles of ‘Cat’ and ‘Dog People’ in Social Media
Moral Foundation Theory
Although almost everyone agrees that some things are morally good and some things are morally bad, the specific form of these beliefs can differ throughout the population. What is egregious to one person: harming marginalized communities, banning sugary soft drinks, refusing to go to church, etc.; can be considered completely trivial or even be endorsed by someone else.
The Moral Foundations Theory [1,2,3] was developed to model and explain these differences. Under this theory, there are a finite number of basic, moral values that people can intuitively support, but not necessarily to the same extent across the population. The five moral foundations are:
The valuation of compassion, kindness, and warmth, and the derogation of malice, deliberate injury, and inflicting suffering.
The endorsement of equality, reciprocity, egalitarianism, and universal rights.
Valuing patriotism and special treatment for ones own ingroup.
The valuation of extant or traditional hierarchies or social structures and leadership roles.
Disapproval of dirtiness, unholiness, and impurity.
Under this theory, a person who strongly endorses the value of ‘Care/Harm’ will be appalled at an action that causes suffering, while someone who endorses ‘Authority’ will support an action that supports the social hierarchy. These responses would be immediate, emotional, and intuitive.
Continue reading Moral Foundations in Partisan News Sources
One of the most hyped applications of big data analysis to social media is sentiment analysis (a.k.a. opinion mining). Sentiment analysis is the area of Natural Language Processing that aims to identify and extract subjective information from text. This generally includes identifying if a piece of text is subjective or objective, what sentiment (a.k.a. valence) it expresses (positive or negative), what emotion it conveys and towards which entity or aspect of the text. Companies and marketers are mostly interested in automatically inferring public opinion about products, movies or actions.
Opposite to mining these attitudes towards other objects, people also express their own emotions online. We decided to analyze this less popular facet: learning about the emotions of people posting subjective messages. In this post I’ll present variations in sentiment and intensity of Facebook posts and how these vary with the attributes of the people that post them. I will investigate a number of user traits such as gender, age and personality.
Continue reading Sentiment, intensity and user attributes
Many Americans find astrology quite convincing. In fact, approximately 25% of Americans believe in Astrology, 55% of 18 to 24 year olds think astrology is at least “sort of scientific”, and a Huffington Post article on the Zodiac signs of world leaders, just released, has already accrued thousands of Facebook likes. My colleague Daniel Preotiuc-Pietro recently examined stereotypical words that accompany these beliefs by analyzing the content of tweets containing astrological sign hashtags. For example, my star sign, #leo, was most distinguished by words like “loyal”, “dynamic”, “stubborn”, “generous”, and “affectionate”. However, do leos actually differ in this way? Do people differ by their star sign at all?
I started investigating this question back in 2012 while working on what eventually became our first PLOS ONE paper: Personality, Gender, and Age in the Language of Social Media. My collaborators and I were thinking of applications for differential language analysis (DLA), our method which finds language features (e.g. words or phrases) that distinguish psychological and other human attributes. The suggestion was made that DLA could be used for psychological construct validation (i.e. does the language emerging from DLA fit the theory of the construct? How many language features, total, emerge as significantly correlated? For example, do leos use words indicating they are more stubborn or generous? How many words correlate with being a leo?).
Astrological (Zodiac) signs are a great way to prototype DLA for construct validation. Such signs seem to correspond with enduring traits that distinguish people. To believers, such signs are akin to a non-evidence-based Big 5 Personality Model, the most widely used model in Psychology. The Universal Psychic Guild represents this position:
The signs of the Zodiac can give us great insights into our day to day living as well as the many talents and special qualities we posses.
Daniel showed that differences clearly exist in descriptions of star signs. Here, we investigate whether differences clearly exist between people according to their star signs.
Continue reading Differential Language Analysis for Construct Validation: Do People Differ by Astrological Sign?
What do our Facebook posts really say about us? Some dismiss them as just noise, but several research teams are seriously considering social media as a source of psychological data. A common goal of this work is to discover faster or cheaper ways to measure important but elusive variables, like personality, health, and happiness. At the World Well-Being Project, we focus on turning the language from social media into useful new measures.
For example, in a study published last year in PLoS ONE, we searched for traces of age, gender, and personality in a massive amount of social media language: 20 million status updates from 75,000 Facebook users. We found that users’ personality traits could be accurately predicted using only the words in their Facebook status updates. This is consistent with several recent studies [1-6] that suggest that statistical algorithms are surprisingly good at profiling our personalities, especially when they are fed psychologically-rich information like the structure of our Facebook social network or our Facebook likes.
Does this mean that algorithms will replace personality questionnaires?
Continue reading Assessing the assessment: Measuring personality with Facebook status messages