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Think you know your loved ones? Think again. A new study from researchers at Stanford University and the University of Cambridge found that a computer-generated review of Facebook “likes” predicted an individual’s personality more accurately than people could.
“It was shocking to us,” Stanford postdoctoral fellow and study co-author Michal Kosinski tells Yahoo Parenting. The research, “Computer-Based Personality Judgments Are More Accurate Than Those Made by Humans,” was published yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “When we embarked on our study, we were just hoping we could say, ‘Look, computers are as accurate as humans.’” Turns out, they underestimated technology — and overestimated people.
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Kosinski and his collaborators created a computer model that sorted through the Facebook “likes” of 86,220 volunteers (regarding articles, books, statuses and such). Those volunteers also completed a 100-question survey via the app myPersonality, reports the Washington Post, while, simultaneously, each participant’s friends and family judged the volunteer’s personality in a 10-question survey.
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By comparing the results, data shows that the computer-based personality judgments were more accurate than those of the friends and family — with a “higher external validity when predicting life outcomes such as substance abuse, political attitudes, and physical health,” note the researchers.
Their computer model, for example, required a mere 10 “likes” to judge an individual’s personality better than his or her co-worker. To top a friend or roommate’s assessment, the model needed to evaluate just 70 “likes,” whereas it needed 150 to out-predict a parent or sibling. Husbands and wives were the toughest loved ones for the computer to beat. The model needed at least 300 “likes” to assess a spouse’s personality more accurately than the Mrs., or Mr., did.
“We really expected people to do better,” admits Kosinski, who guesses that one reason for the difference could be the fact that people tend to only consider individuals’ most recent personality traits. “Computers don’t forget the past.” In other words, the computer was more easily able to look at five years of life and judge each year equally to paint a more comprehensive portrait of the participants.
Still, there is a hopeful takeaway. Unlike a computer model, humans — including moms and dads of the most difficult-to-know kids — can learn, change, and get to know their family better if they want to. “I would advise parents to check out what videos your kids are watching and the blogs they’re reading to stay relevant,” says Kosinski. “That will help you understand the things they’re interested in.” And, by extension, better understand them. You’d have to read Twilight, for example, he says, to figure out why your daughter likes the book series and what it says about her personality.
Psychotherapist Amy Morin tells Yahoo Parenting there are a few other easy steps moms and dads can take to become closer to their kids — and get to know them better than a computer ever could.
Eat dinner together
The old tried-and-true family bonding exercise is key here, says the 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do author. “Spending quality time together is the number one family members can really get to know one another better,” she says. “That means eating dinner together, without the TV on,” and engaging in as much discussion with the kids as you can.
Try something new
“Doing new activities together can help a family learn a lot about each other,” says Morin. “New challenges and different opportunities can help families get to know one another on a different level.” So rather than always doing the same thing every evening, try going on a bike ride, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or working on a home improvement project together, she advises. “This can show how each person solves problems, deals with stress, and works with others.”
Dig a little
It’s also important to engage in conversation that goes beyond asking, “What did you do today?” To do that, explains Morin, “Try to go beyond the play-by-play of events and engage in deeper conversation about one another’s hopes, dreams, fears, and values. Share opinions about world events or discuss your goals for the future.” Finally, she suggests, “Show curiosity about one another and you’re bound to learn a lot.”