“i need to learn how to stop destroying myself
stop being hard on myself and be nice to myself
i need to keep telling myself that
i need to keep wanting something
more than just a fur coat
because i can make other people happy
i can understand other people’s pain
i can love even after all that is left of me is gone
because i have that strength”—Daul Kim
Max Weisbuch, Zorana Ivcevic, and Nalini Ambady asked 37 undergraduate volunteers to physically meet with another person and ask each other questions to try to get to know one and other. These brief meetings were videotaped, and, unbeknownst to the volunteers, the person they met with was not a real research participant, but one of six specially trained research assistants who took care to make sure that each volunteer was treated the same.
Immediately after the interview, the researchers obtained permission to download each volunteer’s Facebook page. Then their interviewer rated them for likability, and three undergraduate research assistants from a different university rated the videotaped behavior for cues indicating non-verbal expressivity, and for “verbal disclosure”—how willing they were to disclose personal details. A different set of ten undergraduates from a different university rated the volunteers’ Facebook pages for likability and expressivity, as well as the number of personal details revealed there.
The researchers found significant correlations between the behavior of the volunteers in person and online. “Liking” in person and online were moderately correlated (r = .33), as were verbal disclosure and online disclosure (r = .34). Non-verbal expressivity was also correlated with online expressivity (r = .41). But the relationship wasn’t perfect. While online expressivity was strongly correlated with online liking (r = .61), there was no significant correlation between online expressivity and liking in person.
So a Facebook page really can say a lot about what a person is like in real life—up to a point. The researchers also point out that their study can’t tell us much about the student’s spontaneous online behavior. A Facebook page might have been carefully crafted over many hours, but other online interactions like tweets and status updates can be much more spur-of-the-moment. It’s less clear whether this behavior is related to real-life spontaneity.