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Can you spot a psycho in a tweet?

A team of researchers at the Florida Atlantic University, working with the Online Privacy Foundation and Kaggle, have been trying to discover if psychopathy can be detected through a person’s tweets. So far, it seems like if the context is right, it’s possible.

The study used previous research from Cornell Univeristy that suggested psychopaths did have language tells, such as over use of words like since, because and so that, as well as commenting twice as often on physical needs such as food, sex or money. Contrary to this, non-psychopaths tended to often discuss more social needs, like family and friends.

This data was used by automated procedures, that also looked at profile information, number of tweets, re-tweets, replies and the number of words per tweet, to analyse just under 3,000 individuals. In the end they were rated on a scale of 1-5 in eight different areas. According to the results (via Wired), of those tested, 41 came out as potential psychopaths.

Patrick Bateman
"Just got a reservation @Dorsia, lol"

While of course these sorts of results are somewhat speculative, due to the public nature of twitter versus usual private conversation and the fact that this sort of diagnosis is much more likely to be accurate if performed in person, it’s an interesting insight into not only the potential of tools like these personality tests, but the nature of Twitter usage.

Then again, Florida Atlantic’s Randell Wald felt that this study showed “a number of statistically significant correlations between an individual’s darker personality traits and their Twitter activity.” Suggesting perhaps, that while public, Twitter’s remote discussion allowed for a more honest view of a person that perhaps their more guarded everyday life.

KitGuru Says: While this is very interesting, it does raise potential privacy concerns too. What if potential employers began using personality tools to automatically determine what an applicant might be like based on their twitter history? Would you be comfortable with that?

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