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Study reveals that your Facebook feed may be hiding a few psychopaths

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If you've ever thought that you've noticed a trend among your less savory Facebook friends of posting more disturbing things, you may be right. Swedish researchers have announced that they can discern narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy (or antisocial personality disorder) from Facebook statuses.

“The dark side of Facebook: Semantic representations of status updates predict the Dark Triad of personality,” is the name of the study, and its results are as ominous as they sound. The “Dark Triad” refers to three personality tests that are designed to indicate whether subjects tested show signs of any of these personality disorders, including psychopathy.

The research team, from Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg and Lund University, first gave personality tests to 304 American subjects and then watched them on Facebook. The idea was to see if there was a relationship between the diagnosed personality disorders (if any), positive personality traits, and trends in posting. Interestingly, the team was able to predict the negative personality issues with much greater ease.

According to the study results, there is a clear connection between psychopathy and the tendency to post regarding specific negative subjects using select negative language. For example, head researcher Sverker Sikströmtold reported to Swedish news site The Local that decapitation and pornography are far more likely to trend in the feeds of those who score higher for traits that indicate psychopathy. The team's algorithm applies equally well to other social media platforms.

The results of this study dovetail nicely with those from a Virginia study from earlier this year. That study found that Facebook photos allowed researchers to predict future happiness of research subjects with some success. In the context of the Swedish study's verbal algorithm it seems that positive traits and happiness are more easily predicted visually; further study may reveal whether individuals can more easily predict personality pitfalls like psychopathy in others by looking at them or speaking with them.


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