How your Facebook posts can reveal you’re a psychopath

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

Facebook psychoSwedish researchers claim that your Facebook posts can reveal your personality traits, including whether or not you have psychopathic tendencies.

In a study conducted by researchers from Lund University in southern Sweden and Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg, the status updates of 300 American Facebook users were analysed, alongside personality tests.

The Facebook users were given conventional personality tests, but also asked to submit a selection of status updates. The Facebook status updates were analysed using an algorithm developed by Lund University psychology professor Sverker Sikström, measuring the significance of words.

As Swedish press reports describe, the researchers discovered that Facebook posts revealed clues about the writers’ personalities.

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The status analyses could indicate which Facebook users demonstrated psychopathic and narcissistic personality traits in the personality tests,” Danilo García, a researcher at the Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health at Sahlgrenska Academy, said in a statement.

He added that those with a psychopathic personality posted “negatively charged or odd formulations more often”, including entries about prostitutes, decapitation, pornography and butchers.

And there I was thinking that posting status messages on Facebook about prostitutes, decapitation and pornography was an indication of perfectly healthy behaviour…

Sikström says that the fact that Facebook users compete for attention on the site, may actually result in some social networkers revealing “more of their dark side”.

However, he stresses, you shouldn’t worry that Facebook friends who post odd status updates are psychopaths.

“Even if you show psychopathic personality traits on Facebook, that doesn’t automatically mean you are a psychopath,” he said

Oh good. That’s a relief. I’ll go back to posting about butchers and prostitutes then.

As ever, my advice (whether you are a psychopath or not) is to be very careful what you post on any social network, and who you share it with.

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Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

2 comments on “How your Facebook posts can reveal you’re a psychopath”

  1. Nick

    This is the stupidest and crapiest study thats ever been done.

    First of all, a status update can mean several different things. You could post something that could be considered negative or neutral until you put in a smiley face. Or the other way around. That's why a lot of people sometimes think over 6 times about how to word their sentences so as to not give the wrong impression to the reader. Secondly, who are these 300 people? They are being asked to post status updates rather than letting them post when they're actually in the mood. It makes a huge difference.

    I think the makers of this study are phychopaths for thinking a text algorithm can determine human emotion. Look where Sweden's tax payer money has gone to. Thanks geniuses!

    1. Cody · in reply to Nick

      If this is the stupidest study you've ever seen then I fear you've not seen many studies regarding psychiatry, psychology or even general health because this is absolutely not even close to the worst (more like "worst" – note the quotes). But, rather than elaborate (read: give specific examples) there, I'll go another direction about studies in general and your algorithm remark (regarding personality especially) as well as give an example study that seems silly/useless/stupid at first but had far more to it (and it wasn't tax funded).

      1. Who funds the studies? It isn't necessarily the tax payers money as you seem to suggest (whether intentionally or not, it seems that way. But see point three below on this one). Many of my friends, for example, are Swedish, and although the wait time is generally higher for non-emergency situations, they get care despite being poor or otherwise no insurance (and I don't mean care only in an emergency department of a hospital which is not the same as proper ongoing treatment). But forget that – it isn't necessarily relevant (actually, for my points it is 100% irrelevant). While I cannot say that absolutely zero studies are tax funded, I can say that many are not. So the question to ask yourself is this: If people were donating money to you for a certain cause would you actually go and use it for something else? Not if you wanted more money and/or didn't want lawsuits on your organisation. Often studies are funded by donations and donations are for a specific cause (e.g., cancer research, multiple sclerosis research, etc.).

      2. I'm not really sure algorithm is the correct term. The closest thing I can think of (only waking up so maybe it isn't much) is a pattern. Thing that matters most though, is this: a 'status update' is what exactly? I don't use Facebook I admit, but I can tell you for a fact that personality tests involve specific questions about how you (do and don't) react/think/behave/… and these days (long time – well over a decade even) they are done on computers. And when I refer to personality tests, I am referring to personality disorders. There are personality disorders that are close to psychopathy but they are not necessarily equivalent (it is disputed which is to say there isn't exactly a 100% official medical definition). But get this: personality (which is what is specifically mentioned in the study) is very much related to observed patterns (Hence "personality traits"). So no matter what you call it, yes, it can be mostly automated (but note: it's never going to be perfect; nothing is, so expecting something to be perfect and so therefore useless when not perfect, is a logical fallacy).

      3. Even more important is that there is always something more to studies (whether they seem stupid, obvious, something else – or not), than what it seems. For example, somewhere in 1989 in at least England (if not the rest of the UK) there was a survey of citizens on their sex life. Well, seems like that is pretty useless and/or wrong/[insert various other thoughts], when you don't have context. It almost didn't go through because the government thought it was an invasion of privacy (there goes the tax money part, huh?) and halted any funds for the study. Well, due to donated money it went through (as I mentioned earlier). So what is the good of this study? I'll give you a hint: the HIV epidemic. There's always more to it, in other words.

      Like it, hate it, it does not make my points any less valid. As for personality (disorder) testing I have experience in this indeed and you're welcome to take your pick on why – I don't really care because personality is something that really defines a person and I know who I am, whereas you don't know me to that degree (or at all). Point three is actually documented on (at least) the BBC (actually, they recently showed results of the poll, updated for 2013, and then they elsewhere explained the government originally having a problem with it as well as explaining why it was done in the first place). My proof?

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