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Social Media as a Window to Your Soul? Stanford GSB Prof Says Yes

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So last week we shared some tips and cautionary tales from admissions directors at leading business schools about MBA applicants and their social media presence. In a nutshell, we found that different admissions committees use social media to varying degrees as part of the MBA admissions process, but a general rule of thumb is to not be an idiot. In fact, recent research out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) suggests that monitoring an applicant’s social media behavior over the long run could actually reveal more intimate traits and core personality than face-to-face interviews. Adcoms: take note.

Assistant Professor Michal Kosinski, who teaches organizational behavior at Stanford GSB, was surprised to learn as part of research he conducted recently just how much what an individual “likes” on Facebook can reveal about a person.

“The thing that was most surprising to me … is that our most intimate traits can be very easily predicted from a digital footprint, and a very general one as well, such as Facebook ‘likes,’” Kosinki said as part of a recent interview with the Stanford News Service.

One of findings that most surprised Kosinski—who holds a doctorate in psychology and whose research interests include big data, crowdsourcing and psychological assessment—was that he was even able to predict whether someone’s parents were divorced or not based on their Facebook likes. In fact, those results seemed so improbable that he began to doubt his own methods and reran the analyses a few times. “I couldn’t believe that what you like on Facebook could be affected by your parents’ divorce, which could have happened many years earlier—we’re talking here about people who might be 30 or 40 years old,” he told Stanford News.

Beyond the marital status of your parents, your digital footprint is also predictive of many other intimate traits, Kosinski found, from whether you smoke, drink or take drugs to your sexual orientation and political views.

“Actually, everything we tried predicting was predictable to some degree, and quite often it was pretty accurate,” he said in the interview.

Come on—you know you’re curious to see if this is for real. Well, you’re in luck: A demo of Kosinski’s models is available here:

Not only were intimate traits predictable from Facebook “likes,” Kosinski found that even broader measures related to your digital footprints can be used in predictions—how many Facebook friends you have, the number of your likes, how many times you log in to Facebook, how often you tweet.