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

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“Each one of those measures is not a very strong predictor of anything on its own,” Kosinski says. “But if you combine many different variables of this kind, each of them slightly predictive, the computer can get a very good idea of who you are.”

Now, none of this is to suggest that you can draw deeply personal insights about your roommate’s ex-girlfriend’s sister just because you happen to still be Facebook friends with her and can see what she publicly shares on social media. “Few Facebook likes are so obviously linked with personality or other traits as to allow a human to use them in forming accurate judgments,” cautions Kosinski, adding that language used in status updates or tweets may reveal even less to mere humans.

“Computers, however, are very good at combining thousands or millions of subtle pieces of information to arrive at accurate predictions. We humans, with our limited ability to simultaneously process more than a few facts at a time, are rather bad at it.”

This is why analysis of years of an individual’s Facebook history could well reveal a more accurate sense of the person than an actual face-to-face interaction, Kosinski says. “It’s rather easy for people to misrepresent themselves in, say, a half-hour-long interview or on a first date. It’s much more difficult to monitor your appearances and opinions in years of your Facebook history.”

Which begs a few questions. First, what and how much is Facebook already doing with the information we so gleefully offer up in our newsfeeds? And second, will Stanford GSB’s Admissions Committee ultimately employ Kosinski’s research as part of the MBA admissions process? After all, if computer analysis of a candidate’s digital footprint yields more accurate results than a face-to-face interview, an argument could certainly be made in favor of making the switch.

We checked in with Stanford GSB Admissions Director Derrick Bolton, who agreed that the research was fascinating. “But no, we’re not using it and never could,” he says. “Remember the Hawthorne effect: as soon as it became high-stakes it would change the behavior…”

Stanford GSB consistently has one of the lowest acceptance rates of all leading business schools (7.1 percent last year, compared to Harvard’s 11 percent). So, yes, high-stakes indeed.

Read the interview with Professor Kosinski in the Stanford News Service.