FeaturedPsychology

The Relationship between Personality, Social Behaviors and Social Media Use

Author: Sijia (Scarlett) Chai
Shanghai Starriver Bilingual School
September, 2020


Background

In society, more and more people spend a large amount of their time on social media. Social media serves as a platform for people to socialize, present themselves and stay connected with their surrounding. Social media offers a variety of advantages to society, such as the convenience to communicate instantly despite geographical barriers, connect with people of the same interest and allows individuals to be constantly up to date with news and other events happening in the world. However, there are also many negative aspects that underlie the use of social media. One such emerging negative phenomena is the fear of missing out, also known as FOMO. It refers to a psychological state in which people become anxious that others within their social spheres are leading much more interesting and socially desirable lives [1]. Also, many people constantly update their information and check for new messages. The more time these people spend checking these messages and search for stimuli such as photos, videos and content, the more they are wasting their valuable time and it has even generated a rather novel mental health issue which is social media addiction [2]. Further, it has been suggested that social media use not only relates to addictive behaviours but also to distraction while working, neglect of the relationship with real-world friends and family members and hence contribute to negative social life.

Personality is a stable, organized collection of psychological traits and mechanisms in the human being that influences his or her interactions with their psychological, social and physical environment [3]. The Big 5 Personality Test is one of the most established methods to assess and describe one’s personality. According to the Big 5, people’s personality can be divided into 5 distinct personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism [4]. Extraversion is related to whether the person is more likely to express his emotions or hide his feelings and more sociable. Agreeableness has to do with the ease of getting along with someone. People high on the conscientiousness dimension tend to be disciplined and organized. Openness is related to whether the person is imaginative; preferring variety and new things. Finally, people high on neuroticism are more likely to be anxious and insecure, demonstrating a tendency of instability and inconsistent mood. 

On the one hand, personality can be related to well-being within individuals depicted in social behaviours observed in society. For example, people who are high in agreeableness would like to help others. People with high openness are more likely to listen to others’ suggestions which contribute to progress. Personality also relates to trust and interpersonal behaviours. For example, a study showed that Facebook users scoring high on extraversion and low on agreeableness tend to use more other protection strategies besides the management of privacy settings when using the social media platform [5]. Interestingly, extrovertive individuals have been found to engage more in seeking social support but also in avoidance behaviour compared to introvertive subjects [6]. As previous studies suggest, openness is positively associated with pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors [7]. On the other hand, personality can also be related to negative behaviors. One study showed that impulsivity was related to risky behaviors in adolescence [8]. Another research indicated that people of peace type and emotional type personality are more likely to conduct unsafe behaviors during construction work [9]. Ackerman et al. (2011) found that Entitlement/ Exploitativeness tendencies were associated with anti-social behaviors that indicate that others should cater to the narcissist’s needs without any expectation of reciprocity [10]. Further, most personality traits do not relate to positive environmental behaviours, such as green IT adoption; conscientiousness was the only trait to relate to improved Green IT adoption [11]. It was also been reported that there were negative relationships between agreeableness and conscientiousness with workplace deviance [12]. Taken together, this suggests that personality can be related to positive but also negative behaviours in society. 

Method

Participants

There were 159 mixed-gender participants (78 females) aged from 16-74 from the various provinces in China.

Measures

Personality was assessed with the NEO Personality Inventory developed by Costa and Macrae in 1987 which experienced two revisions. The Chinese version of this questionnaire was revised by Zhang (1996). It consisted of 25 questions that outlined 5 different personality traits: Adaptation, Socialness, Openness, Altruism and Morality (5 question per sub-scale of personality). Responses were given on a 5-point Likert-type scale (1-5) and higher values indicate higher tendency of the respective construct (except for adaptation, in which higher numbers indicate lack of adaptation). The Cronbach’s alpha values for all sub-scales produced values of acceptable internal consistency; Adaptation: α= 0.588, Socialness: α = 0.582, Openness: α = 0.573, Altruism: α = 0.712 and Moral: α = 0.704.

Procedure

The data was collected online. The edit and release of the questionnaire were powered by www.wjx.cn and most responses were given on Wechat.

Statistical analyses

All analyses were conducted using SPSS (IBM, version 26). independent-sample t-tests and correlational analyses were used to explore the associations between personality, social media use and social behaviours. 

Results

Descriptives

The present sample consisted of 159 participants aged 33.10 years (SD = 12.64; range: 16-74) of which 81 were male (50.9%) and 78 were female (49.1%). Table 1 depicts the mean personality trait measures for the whole sample and by gender. Independent-sample t-tests were conducted to explore whether there were any gender differences in the five personality traits. The results revealed that females were significantly scoring higher in socialness (p = 0.005), altruism (p = 0.003), morality (p < 0.001) and in adaptation (p = 0.015). This suggest that females seems to be more social, more altruistic, act more according to moral standards and adapt better to situations than males. There was no difference between males and females in openness (p = 0.088).

Table 1. Personality trait measures for the whole sample and by gender.

Personality in relation to social behaviours

Five independent-sample t-tests were conducted to explore whether people who in scenarios are more helpful or not show differences in personality. The results revealed that there was a significant difference in adaptation between people who were helpful and not helpful, t(157)=4.227, p<0.001; participants who reported being more helpful in the scenarios had a tendency to have lack of adaptation (M=16.66, SD = 3.19) than participants who reported not being helpful (M = 14.58, SD = 2.65). There was no difference in socialness between helpful and not helpful participants, t(157)=-1.385, p=0.168. The results revealed that there was a significant difference in openness between people who were helpful and not helpful, t(157)=2.226, p=0.027; participants who reported being more helpful in the scenarios had a tendency to be more open (M=16.40, SD = 3.10) than participants who reported not being helpful (M = 15.27, SD = 3.16).The results revealed that there was a significant difference in altruism between people who were helpful and not helpful, t(157)=-3.362, p=0.001; participants who reported being more helpful in the scenarios had a tendency to be less altruistic (M=10.49, SD = 2.92) than participants who reported not being helpful (M = 12.20, SD = 3.38). The results revealed that there was a significant difference in moral between people who were helpful and not helpful, t(157)=-4.196, p<0.001; participants who reported being more helpful in the scenarios had a tendency to less moral(M=10.82, SD = 3.32) than participants who reported not being helpful (M = 13.13, SD = 3.46).

Personality in relation to social media

Five independent-sample t-tests were conducted to explore whether people who use WeChat and those using other platforms show differences in personality. The results revealed that there was a significant difference in socialness between people who use Wechat and those using other social platforms, t(157)=-2.449, p=0.015; participants who reported using WeChat seemed to be less  social (M = 13.92, SD = 3.09).) than participants who reported using other platforms (M=15.64, SD = 3.93). The results revealed that there was a significant difference in openness between people who use Wechat and those using other social platforms, t(157)=2.044, p=0.043; participants who reported using Wechat seemed to be more open(M=16.19, SD = 3.04) than participants who reported using other social platforms(M = 14.80, SD = 3.57). The results revealed that there was a significant difference in altruism between people who use Wechat and those using other social platforms, t(157)=-2.173, p=0.031; participants who reported using WeChat seemed to be less altruistic(M = 10.90, SD = 2.98)than participants who reported using other social platforms (M=12.40, SD = 4.04). The results revealed that there was a significant difference in morality between people who use Wechat and those using other social platforms, t(157)=-2.093, p=0.038; participants who reported  using Wechat seemed to be less moral (M = 11.44, SD = 3.45).  than participants who reported using other social platforms (M=13.04, SD = 3.83).

Correlation analyses were conducted to explore whether hours of SM use and use before sleep were related to personality.  The results showed that there was a negative correlation between lack of adaption and daily hours of SM use, r = -0.229, p = 0.004, suggesting that people who are less adaptive spent more time using social media per day. There was a positive correlation between socialness and daily hours of SM use, r = 0.201, p = 0.011, suggesting that people who are more social spent more time using social media per day. There was a positive correlation between moral and daily hours of SM use, r=0.219, p=0.006, suggesting that people who are more moral spent more time using social media per day. The results showed that there was a positive correlation between socialness and hours of SM use before sleep, r=0.222, p=0.005, suggesting that people who are more social spent more time using social media before sleep. The results showed that there was a positive correlation between morality and hours of SM use before sleep, r=0.191, p=0.016, suggesting that people are more moral spent more time using social media before sleep.

Discussion

The aim of the present study was to explore to what extent personality was related to social media use and social behaviors. From the study, it has been found that individuals who were more open, lack adaptation, were less altruistic and less moral were more likely to engage in helpful behaviors. At the same time, people who were less social, more open and less altruistic tend to use WeChat instead of other social platforms. People who were less adaptive, more moral and social spent more time using social media every day. People who were more social and moral spent more time on social media on average before sleep every day.

Through the results, it is found that helpful people are more likely to be open, lack adaptation, are less altruistic and less morality right. It is plausible that those who are open tend to conduct helpful behaviour. Openness depicts the quality of not being confined or covered; open people like to explore things and are curious about their surroundings. They like to pursue adventures, new experiences and changes.  Meanwhile, they may want to connect with new people and probably would achieve this by helping others. According to one study, there was a positive relationship between openness to experience and various dimensions of organization-citizenship-behaviours including interpersonal helping, individual initiative, personal industry and loyal boosterism [11]. Nevertheless, it is unclear why the present study found that people who lack adaptation were more likely to conduct helpful behaviours. Adaptation is the process of changing something to suit a new situation and people who lack this ability cannot blend into new environments easily. They tend to be more sensitive and reactive, neurotic and easily depressed and anxious. They can interpret normal things as threatening and have unstable emotional status. Hence, when somebody needs help, people who lack adaptation are likely to worry about whether it is a fraud or not and might expect the worst outcomes behind their behaviors. Also, it is already difficult to solve their own emotional problem, so they may have no energy left to help others. As a result, it seems unlikely that people who lack adaptation tend to conduct helpful behaviors. Altruism is showing concern for the well-being of other people rather than for yourself and it is consistent with the term “helpful”. However, according to the survey, people who conduct helpful behaviour in the scenarios were likely to be less altruistic. Furthermore, as it is morally right to help others, people who were more moral are supposed to conduct more helpful behaviours in the scenarios. Nevertheless, the results turned out to be the opposite of the initial assumption. 

Considering these three results that do not make sense, a possible explanation is suggested. People who are less altruistic and less morality right may imagine themselves to be more helpful and moral because they know being less-altruistic and showing lower moral is usually considered as a bad quality. During the scenario test, the options are of obvious direction to present whether the behaviors are helpful or less helpful. Therefore, when completing the scenario test, those who were less altruistic and less morality right want to justify themselves or want themselves to present in a better quality. At the same time, this tendency might be unconscious to the respondents, which means they actually think as themselves reacting in a  helpful manner. Therefore, these people may choose the answer that makes them seem more helpful although they may not actually behave the same way when the scenario actually happens. Another explanation might be that these people actually know they are less altruistic and less morality right. However, they also own some other personality characteristic that will make them conduct helpful behaviors at the same time, such as openness as mentioned above. The extent of influence of those good quality aspects exceeds that of their personality of being less altruistic and less morality right. As a result, they are more likely to conduct helpful behaviors under such circumstances. Finally, a third explanation can be due to potential flaws in the questionnaires for the personality test which might not depict stable personality traits in the participants. 

Several limitations need to be acknowledged. When employing questionnaires to test the personality of people, some options are repetitive so that the result of the personality test can probably be inaccurate as individuals might engage less in the items of the questionnaire.  One major flaw that was discovered post data collection period was the directions of response scales within some of the items. Specifically, responses were provided on a scale 1 to 5, depicting a degree of increasing to decreasing tendency. This suggests that individuals who scored higher values, showed a decreasing tendency of a specific item component. However, it seemed that a few items had the opposite direction of the scale, which might have made respondents confused and the results potentially inaccurate. The constructs were computed based on the original NEO Personality Inventory developed by Costa and Macrae in 1987 as per Chinese version by Zhang (1996), however, it was concluded that some of the constructs might have required reverse-coding of the scaling for the tendency of the items to be correct.

Furthermore, some descriptions of the words were not clear. For example, in the scenario test, which some scenarios seemed to assess helping behavior, there was one scenario (“someone pushes you”) which seemed to assess the extent of aggression rather than helping behaviour. Nevertheless, these scenarios are all concluded to whether the behavior is helpful or not. In addition, the sample in the present study only included limited working areas, mainly within the construction industry and it would have benefitted to incorporate a more wide-ranging sample from various industries.

To make the results be more plausible, personality can be measured from various angles, such as subjective and objective assessment. Specifically, the personality test can be conducted among a group of participants first (based on self-report measures), followed by assessment about these participants by their friends to gauge whether their perceived personalities are in line with the friend’s perceptions. If the result of the personality test does not match with both the perception of the friends and respondents themselves, it may partly explain why the results in the scenario test do not make sense. It might be because there are some flaws and mistakes in the personality test. Alternatively, more qualitative data can be conducted to explore the reasons for selecting certain options to understand these seemingly unreasonable results (for some of the findings that were unclear). Now that it was established that there is a relationship between personality and helpful behaviors, future studies could explore the relationship between personality and other good/bad behaviors such as honesty and faith/smoking and drinking. Ultimately, this is useful to know as it might provide opportunities to prevent some bad behaviors from happening in advance and select the right people to conduct good behaviors to some degree.

To conclude, the present study explored the relationship between personality, social media use and social behaviors. The findings were somewhat clear and unclear, suggesting that openness related to helpful behaviours; a finding that seems appropriate given the characteristics of openness. However, some of the other personality traits seemed to lack coherence in the way how they can relate to helpfulness and future research is warranted that investigates these associations further, with methodologically strong designs, using appropriate measures of personality and social behaviours.

References

Mentor: Dr. Bianca Serwinski, Northeastern Univeristy

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About the author

Scarlett Chai