Using Social Media to Measure Personality: A New Chapter of Old Fiction

Posted by Blaine Gaddis on Fri, Feb 27, 2015


On February 19th 2015, CBS Evening News presented a story about using social media to measure personality. It featured a Stanford professor using algorithms on over 86,000 Facebook users to measure their personalities based on what they ‘Like’. Those who click on Shakespeare and 2001: A Space Odyssey were described as artistic, whereas those who clicked on Rush Limbaugh and Ford were described as conventional. Liking boxing was linked to being organized, and liking vampires was an indicator of being spontaneous. The story also featured similar work at the University of Cambridge, and a New York-based consulting firm using social media to screen applicants. When seeing these institutions named, one might think that examining a person’s fingerprint on social media is a sound method for assessing personality. However, as Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly have recently demonstrated, just because something’s on the news doesn’t necessarily make it true.

In reality, this idea is just the latest chapter in an old work of fiction featuring things like tarot cards, astrology, crystal balls, graphology, and palm readings. It might be entertaining, but scientifically it’s a waste of time. Besides important privacy, professional, and legal concerns, there are a number of serious problems with using social media to measure a person’s personality. Here are just a few:

Some People Don’t Play the Game

A 2014 Business Insider article pegged the total number of Facebook users at 2.2 billion, or one-third of the global population. Although that number is impressive, it implies that two-thirds of the globe is not on Facebook. Some of these people are from impoverished countries without even basic human services; others are within our own borders, such as older Americans or those from socio-economic backgrounds not affording them easy access to the Internet. And yet others are well-educated adults who simply choose not to engage in social media. If social media is the future of personality measurement, should we just ignore all those people? Obviously not, but when one considers the fact that some organizations are using social media to screen applicants, this issue has huge implications.

Others Prefer to Watch

Like myself, many people on Facebook use the site not to post frequent messages, photos, videos, or other content about themselves, but to keep in touch with others by viewing what they post. I frequently visit Facebook, but use it to consume information rather than share it. Existing algorithms using Facebook Likes to assess personality are based only on information shared (and only a very specific subset of shared information at that), and thus have no means of describing such individuals.

You Are More than the Sum of Your Likes

Personality is far more complex than just the things you ‘Like’ on Facebook, and over-simplifying it only serves to dumb it down and make it less accurate. I’ll use myself as an example. Using the Cambridge website to describe me based on my Likes, it looks like I’m 29 years old (I’m 37) and likely masculine (62% probability; I’m 100% as far as I know), not married (27%; I should probably tell my wife), educated in Engineering (24%; Psychology was only 10%), and politically conservative (39%; definitely not).

Concerning my personality, my Facebook Likes paint me as Liberal and Artistic (wasn’t I also politically conservative?), shy and reserved, warm and cooperative, and calm and relaxed. If you don’t know me you might be tricked into thinking these are accurate. However, those who know me well would not be likely to describe me using these terms. For entertainment purposes, these inaccuracies are merely odd. However, considering the use of social media personality assessment for applied purposes, they have potentially disastrous consequences if used to screen job applicants.

Guessing < Basic Research

Let’s return to my Cambridge results describing me as a 29 year-old, politically conservative, single Engineer. These probabilities are not only inaccurate, but also easily corrected through publicly available data. If someone is sophisticated enough to check the About link on my Facebook page, they could see that I was born in 1977, earned a PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, married my wife in 2004, and do not subscribe to either political party. This is a simple example, but underscores an important point – why use inaccurate probabilities to describe a person when better information is available? With demographics on Facebook, the About page is better than guessing. With personality measurement, well-constructed and validated personality instruments are preferred to Facebook Likes.

White-Collar and Blue-Collar Interests

Facebook Likes often reflect people’s personal interests and hobbies. It follows, then, that using Likes to measure personality will result in a profile based largely on assumed associations with those interests and hobbies. However, this logic is flawed. Previous research shows that blue-collar workers employed in occupations based in manual labor often pursue intellectual interests in their spare time to gain the intellectual stimulation that their jobs do not offer. White-collar workers with cognitively-based jobs, on the other hand, often engage in manual hobbies as a means of relaxing their minds in their spare time. These different personal interests are likely to be reflected in Facebook Likes, increasing the likelihood that personality assessment based on these data will be flawed and inaccurate.

Putting the Cart before the Horse

Although it’s interesting to think about how Facebook and other social media content reflects personality, those engaged in trying to use these data to predict personality have put the cart before the horse. In reality, clicking ‘Like’ on a topic on Facebook or otherwise engaging in social media is behavior, and like any behavior, it is our personality that predicts what we are likely to do when we engage in social media. Personality predicts behavior, not the other way around.

In this manner, those attempting to use Facebook to predict personality are much like other researchers who have examined the accuracy of job interviews in assessing candidate personality. Although responses to questions and behaviors demonstrated during the interview reflect a candidate’s personality to some degree, some personality characteristics (i.e., Extraversion) are easier to identify in interviews than others (i.e., Agreeableness). Put another way, interviews and social media presence may be interesting supplements to, but are no substitute for, directly measuring personality using well-constructed and properly validated assessment instrument.

OK, Wrap It Up…

Like the advent of the Internet itself, the rise of social media and the popularity of websites such as Facebook and Twitter have fundamentally changed how people communicate with each other and present themselves. Certainly, the content people share on social media reflects their personalities. But even at its best, trying to measure personality using algorithms that search content on the Internet is a poor substitute for using reliable and valid personality instruments. At its worst, particularly within occupational settings, such applications can be unprofessional, unethical, and unproductive.

Topics: personality, personality characteristics, social media, personality assessment, Facebook

Mythbusters Series: People Are Rational

Posted by Dustin Hunter on Tue, Feb 24, 2015


Sorry folks, there’s no such thing as a purely rational or logical individual. I hope it’s no revelation that, in general, people are irrational & largely inconsistent decision makers. Please take the U.S. state lottery system for confirmation. Economists refer to the lottery as a ‘stupidity tax’; proof in point, it generated about $68 billion in ANNUAL revenue in 2013. John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” sums up lottery spending nicely for us: “That’s more than Americans spent last year on movie tickets, music, porn, the NFL, Major League baseball, and video games combined. Which basically means that Americans spent more on the lottery than they spent on America.”

Everyone believes they can beat the odds. They believe if they decide to play, the chances will be in their favor simply for taking part in the game. Actually, studies show each of us believe we are above average at nearly everything life has to offer (not just guessing lottery numbers). This includes intelligence, driving skills, and sexual prowess to name a few. This well-studied bias is called illusory superiority, or the above-average effect, and it doesn’t take an I/O psychologist to know that not everyone can be at the right tail of a normal distribution.

Take, as another example, the pervasive texting while driving epidemic that is currently plaguing our roadways. A well-publicized study by University of Utah psychologists shows that only about 2.5% of the population, dubbed ‘supertaskers’, can multitask well enough to safely talk on the phone and drive, let alone text and drive. So why can’t otherwise intelligent people stop staring at their smartphone at the most inappropriate time in the day?

Along with our natural biases, evolution is hard at work against rational decision-making. When a person hears the endorphin-producing ‘ding-ding’ of a text message or email, a hard-wired, biological switch is activated. Early in human history, this switch served the purpose of quickly identifying whether or not someone tapping you on the shoulder from behind (a primeval text) was friend or foe. The person’s attentiveness to the encounter could result in a greeting or a beheading. The text message is this same trigger that your brain must attend to in order to determine the intention, even if it means running your car off the road.

When it comes to taking risks, with our finances or our safety, human beings are terrible at seeing the big picture. Early humans only had to make very short-term decisions aimed at maximizing their immediate survival needs (basically food & sex) because the lifespan was only a few decades long, if you were lucky. So in this era, risk-taking was calculated based on the likelihood you could avoid detrimental outcomes like starvation or predation. Today, we don’t have as many immediate consequences to our actions, but the sum of our short-term decisions does determine our long-term success.

Hopefully you are now more aware of the fallacy of logical decision-making. But if this doesn’t resonate with you, perhaps you tend to agree with the roughly 21% of American adults who responded true to the statement: "Winning the lottery represents the most practical way [for me] to accumulate several hundred thousand dollars."

For more busted myths, check out Right Brained vs. Left Brained and stay tuned for the next post in our mythbusters series.

Topics: judgment

Mythbusters Series: Right-Brained vs. Left-Brained

Posted by Krista Pederson on Mon, Feb 09, 2015

hogan-mythbustersSorry folks, there is no such thing as being right-brained or left-brained. The myth that people’s personalities and skills are based on the dominant side of their brain has been the darling of the pop psychology world for years, spurring on the creation of numerous internet quizzes and facebook posts. But contrary to popular belief, there are not two archetype personalities based on which side of your brain is dominant.

According to research from the University of Utah, individuals do not show a more dominant functioning side of the brain. There indeed are specific functions that occur in separate hemispheres and areas of the brain, however research did not find any evidence for people being right or left-brained, or any other evidence that suggests personality stems from brain hemisphere dominance.

What does this mean? Well, it means we can finally break free from commonly accepted stereotypes surrounding the left-right brain theory. People postulating that “men tend to be left-brained and thus more analytical” and “women tend to be right-brained and thus more creative” are simply wrong. The excuse that you don’t understand math because you are “right-brained” is as preposterous as the excuse of the claiming you don’t understand modern art because you are “left-brained”.  If you think about it, this makes sense. The greatest composers must have a deep understanding of math in order to be able to make music. Likewise it would be difficult to deny the artistic qualities of the mathematical Fibonacci sequence in nature and art.

People seem to like classifying things into simple categories because it is easy. The dichotomy of the “artsy, creative right-brained type” versus the “analytical, data driven left-brained type” is simple and easy to digest. But life is rarely that simple. Research shows that there are more than just two types of personalities in the world, and that the differences between personalities do not change based on gender or ethnically/racially differences. Fortunately, you can use the Hogan assessments to accurately assess personality and paint a vibrant and nuanced picture of an individual’s personality in a fair and unbiased way.

Now, let’s go bust some other myths! Stay tuned for the next post in our Mythbusters series.

Topics: personality, personality assessment, mythbusters

3rd Annual Certification Workshop in Minneapolis

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Tue, Feb 03, 2015

Hogan_Certified_Logo_150-1Hogan will host its 3rd Annual Certification Workshop in Minneapolis on March 18-19 from 8-5pm Wednesday and 8-3pm Thursday at MDA Leadership Consulting at 150 South Fifth Street, Suite 3300.

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in the Minneapolis area, and we expect that to continue as we get more people certified,” Hogan’s Twin Cities General Manager Scott Gregory said. “We at Hogan are committed to this region, and we look forward to strengthening that commitment as we continue to expand."

The two-day workshop provides an in-depth understanding of how to use and interpret the Hogan Assessment Suite, offering a comprehensive tutorial on three Hogan inventories – Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI); Hogan Development Survey (HDS); and the Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI).

Participants who attend both days and successfully complete the workshop will be certified to use the Hogan inventories, and will learn best practices concerning assessment use and interpretation.

The cost of the event is $2,300 per participant, which includes all materials, breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. For more information, visit

Topics: certification

Can a Great Boss Lead to Burnout?

Posted by Ryan Daly on Thu, Jan 29, 2015

Nobody likes a micromanaging boss. There are mountains of evidence that show micromanaging bosses are bad for employee engagement and office morale and productivity. In fact, when we asked 1,000 people to describe their worst boss, 48% said micromanaging.

But an interesting study published in the Academy of Management Journal argues that, although there is a definite downside to a micromanaging boss, having an overly trusting boss can be just as stressful. Study author Michael Baer, Ph.D. said laissez faire bosses often provide too much freedom without clear direction or performance expectations, which can lead to chronic stress and, eventually, employee burnout.

“It makes sense,” said Krista Pederson, a consultant on Hogan’s Global Alliances team. “The way most people react to an overbearing boss is to stop caring about their work, because they know nothing’s ever going to be good enough. With a boss on the opposite side of the spectrum, the stress comes from not knowing what they expect.”

“If you’ve got an overly trusting or hands-off boss, you need to set clear expectations and frequent status meetings to keep everyone on the same page,” said GA Consultant Rebecca Callahan. “Eliminating ambiguity is going to eliminate a lot of stress.”

Finally, said GA consultant Kristin Switzer, it’s important to distinguish burnout from longer term career satisfaction.

“Everyone gets burned out from time to time,” Switzer said. “That doesn’t mean they’re dissatisfied with their careers. Long term, you’re going to be a lot happier working for a laissez faire boss than an overbearing one.”

Stuck working for the latter? Check out executive coach Lolly Daskal’s advice for dealing with a micromanaging boss over at Fast Company.

Topics: good managers, managers

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Posted by Darin Nei on Thu, Jan 29, 2015


On my way to the Human Resources Professional Association conference in Toronto last week, I was reading the popular book, The Signal and the Noise, by statistician Nate Silver. If you are not familiar with this book or the author, Mr. Silver is interested in applying probability and statistics to understand predictions and decision making using real-world examples. I’m probably a little late to the party, but for a self-professed nerd like myself, the book is a fascinating read and something I would recommend to others.

As I was reading the book, there was a line that resonated with me – “Wherever there is human judgment there is the potential for bias.” As an Industrial/Organizational psychologist, I couldn’t help but connect this to the workplace. It was somewhere around 35,000 feet above Lake Erie that it dawned on me; the quality of the decisions we make is directly related to how well we perform our jobs. In fact, it is probably the biggest determinant of organizational performance. The most successful people and businesses are those that made the right decisions at the right time.

It doesn’t matter what job we are talking about or what level within an organization we are considering, the ability for people to make good decisions is directly related to their success. Bartenders have to decide when to stop serving a drunk patron. Engineers need to make decisions on where to reinforce and support structure of buildings. CEOs need to make decisions about the vision of the company for the future. It all comes down to decisions.

While it is true that all human judgment is subject to bias, we also know that humans are predictable. By understanding our own biases, we should be able to make better decisions, have better judgment. There are three core components that relate to decision making. The first is understanding how people process information. Some people are good at working with numbers, some are better at working with words. If we know how people process information, we can understand the knowledge base used to arrive at a decision. The second factor is understanding what biases our decisions. Some people are biased to maximize rewards whereas others are biased to minimize threat. Some prefer to think long term and others think in the here-and-now. The third factor is understanding how people respond after a decision is made. Some people tend to be more cool-headed and accepting of feedback, whereas others tend to be more defensive and will deny there are problems with the decisions they’ve made. Since decisions are always made with limitations and constraints, those with good judgment set themselves apart by being open to feedback and willing to incorporate in future decisions. In other words, they learn from their mistakes.

Mr. Silver is on to something when he says that many predictions (decisions) fail. In order to have a chance at making better decisions, improving our judgment, and having less of our predictions fail, we need an objective perspective of what influences our decisions and how we react to feedback about our decisions.

To learn more, check out


Topics: judgment

2015 Hogan Workshops

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Wed, Jan 28, 2015

Even the most advanced assessment tools won’t do any good if you don’t know how to use them. Facilitated by seasoned professionals and tailored to an audience of executive coaches, HR directors or generalists, organizational development or training professionals, and industrial-organizational psychologists, Hogan’s workshops give participants the information they need to effectively administer, interpret, and implement the Hogan assessments.

The two-day Hogan Certification Workshop gives participants a basic understanding of and certifies them to administer and interpret the Hogan Personality Inventory, Hogan Development Survey, and Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory.

  • February 17-18 in AtlantaHogan_Certified_Logo_150-1
  • March 18-19 in Minneapolis
  • April 15-16 in New York
  • May 19-20 in Atlanta
  • June 16-17 in New York
  • July 14-15 in Atlanta
  • August 25-26 in Atlanta
  • September 29-30 in New York
  • October 20-21 in Las Vegas
  • December 1-2 in Atlanta

The Hogan Advanced Interpretation Workshop gives participants a deeper understanding of how the Hogan inventories work together, and certifies them to provide feedback.

  • March 10-11 in Atlanta
  • September 15-16 in Atlanta

To register for a workshop, please visit Hogan Assessments.

Topics: certification, workshops

Coachable or Lost Cause?

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Tue, Jan 27, 2015

In a perfect world, good coaching would lead to good results. Every great American football coach would lead his team to a national championship, and every great executive coach would turn out world-class leaders. In the real world, however, no matter how talented a coach may be, the result of any coaching effort depends in large part on the coached.

“My favorite example is athletics,” said Dr. Robert Hogan, founder of Hogan Assessments. ‘They say for every ten world-class athletes, defined in terms of their physical abilities, only about one makes it. The difference is that they're coachable. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you won't listen to coaching, you're just done.”

Here are four ways to tell if someone is coachable or a lost cause:

1. Can they keep their cool? When you confront them with bad news, do they keep their cool, or do they act excitable, explosive, defensive or paranoid?

“People who are cool-headed are much more able to take feedback on board,” said Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, vice president of research and innovation.

2. Do they accept responsibility? “Do they distort reality in their favor, or do they accept their mistake?” said Chamorro-Premuzic. “People who distort reality in their favor of course have the advantage that they may think of themself as smart. They don't assume any responsibility. People who are more accepting, they are more coachable because they would not just listen, but actually assume responsibility for what happens.”

3. Are they responsive to feedback Some people are responsive to feedback, while others either resist, deny wrongdoing, or pretend to comply while remaining privately resentful. Being responsive to feedback makes a person easy to coach. A person who resents negative feedback will most likely continue their bad habits no matter how many times they’re corrected.

4. Are they willing to change? You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Change is really hard, so if there’s not a willingness on the part of the coached, there is unlikely to be any real progress.

For more information about judgment and coachability, check out this video:

Topics: judgment

Journey to the East

Posted by Michael Sanger on Mon, Jan 26, 2015

Operating in the country that features the second largest economy in the world (and the first in terms of purchasing power) brings with it a higher level of business development and delivery expectations. It has been a pleasure to witness our Greater China distributor Mobley Group Pacific, Ltd (MGP) along with their local Taiwan partner Infelligent Coaching & Consulting consistently live up to these lofty goals.

This past week Dr. Hogan anIMG_2208d I traveled through Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei as we launched our Chinese versions of the Hogan Judgment assessment. We were honored to speak at Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s premier E-MBA program, The Hong Kong Psychological Society’s Division of I/O Psychology, and to leading HR executives at National Taiwan University. Each time we encountered auditoriums jam-packed with engaged and enthusiastic leaders interested in learning how decision making biases and levels of feedback receptiveness relate directly to organizational performance. The size and sophistication of the audiences that received us is a testament to Ms. Nancy Zhang, President of MGP, and her team’s unmatched efforts in educating the market on the importance of making data-based talent management decisions.

While moderating a subject matter expert panel, Ms. Zhang elaborated on the beneficial discomfort that constructive criticism brings. “An executive’s willingness to engage the pain, accept what is going wrong, learn from his or her mistakes, and take action accordingly…that is the essence of good judgment,” she stated. Jim Hwang of Infelligent drove the point home when he added “If we listen to our own PR machines and yes-men instead of data, we’re doomed to reinforce potentially failing strategies.”

We couldn’t agree more. With over ten years of research behind it, Hogan’s Judgment assessment measures the learning approaches, decision making tendencies and reactions to feedback that are key to understanding the intellectual characteristics necessary for success. Now, thanks to members of our Research and Global Alliances Teams, we can confidently assess decision making styles throughout much of Asia with our locally adapted assessments. For those in the area who want to know more, be sure to look out for interviews with Dr. Hogan at the HR Excellence Center and in Business Weekly as well as related materials from

To add to the excitement we stopped by the offices of our longtime distributor Optimal Consulting Group, who covers South East Asia and who also has operations in China, helping capture the market. Optimal recently hit the milestone of certifying 1000 HR leaders and practitioners to interpret our core inventories, and we were pleased we could be there to congratulate them in person. With the insightful and business savvy former Dell executive Ms. Wan Leng Ho at Optimal’s helm, it’s no wonder Hogan Assessments are held in such high regard throughout the region.

It’s always great to see our partners across the world champion the value of predictive assessments with such commitment and passion. We’re especially proud to be working with these two key distributors, each of whom embody the spirit of our One Global Hogan network.

Way to go!

Topics: judgment, distributors

Being Smart Is Making You Stupid

Posted by Ryan Daly on Thu, Jan 22, 2015

Can you trust your own brain? Maybe, maybe not. Solve the following questions as quickly as you can:

  1. A book and a banana together cost $2.90. The book costs $2. How much does the banana cost?
  2. A magazine and a pack of gum cost $1.10. The magazine costs $1 more than the pack of gum. How much does the pack of gum cost?
  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

Almost everyone will get the first question right (the banana costs $0.90). But when it comes to the second two questions, most people’s brains will take a subconscious shortcut that lands them at the wrong answer. The solution to the second question, for example, is $0.05 (the magazine costs $1.05, making it $1 more than the gum), but when researchers posed a similar question to a sample of Harvard students, arguably one of the brightest available sample groups, more than half got it wrong.

Here’s the kicker: the smarter you are, the more likely your brain is going to mess with you.

Researchers posed the third question to a group of 482 students and found that the smarter students were, as gauged by S.A.T. scores and the Need for Cognition Scale, which, according to an article detailing the study in The New Yorker, “measures the tendency for an individual to engage in and enjoy thinking”, the more likely they were to answer the question incorrectly, and the more susceptible they were to other cognitive biases.

Although researchers didn’t have an answer as to why this was the case, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Hogan’s vice president of research and innovation, said the answer lies not in our intelligence, but in our ability to multitask.

“We make hundreds of decisions and consume thousands of bits of information throughout each day, and our brains are overworked,” he said. “So, they create heuristics – biases and shortcuts – to save bandwidth. If you want to make a better decision, try adopting the 90-10 rule. Devote 10% of your time to 90% of the decisions. The more effectively you do this, the more mental resources you can devote to important matters.”

Editor’s note: The answer to question number three is 47 days. Most people instinctively divide the total days in half, giving an incorrect answer of 24 days.

Topics: judgment

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