Article Critique #5

Note: This is a required assignment for a course (CEP 900) at Michigan State University.  The article reviewed below was assigned by the instructor.

Gosling, S. D., Augustine, A. A., Vazire, S., Holtzman, N., & Gaddis, S. (2011). Manifestations of Personality in Online Social Networks: Self-Reported Facebook-Related Behaviors and Observable Profile Information. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(9), 483-488. doi:10.1089/cyber.2010.0087

(1821 words - Questions and citations are 525 words.)

A.        Theoretical Perspective

1.      Critique the author’s conceptual framework. (NOTE: This means the conceptual logic the authors use to introduce their study. Usually starting broad and narrowing down to something specific).

            Gosling’s research seeks to describe the relationship between two related variables personality and Online Social Network (OSN) behavior.  Gosling positions this research as part of the ongoing debate between the rich-get-richer theory and the social-compensation theory.  Gosling is somewhat dismissive of social-compensation and seeks to support the case for rich-get-richer through testing its predictive value.  Gosling is correct that if offline personality can be established as predictive of online behavior, such a finding would provide empirical support the rich-get-richer model.  Unfortunately, personality is a broad term as is online behavior.  This conceptual framework would have benefited from more specificity about which specific components of personality and which behaviors are believed to be correlated, details that are only identified in the methods section.  The additional precision in clarifying these variables would protect his discussion and results from accusations of selectivity in analysis.  To his credit, Gosling does label his studies as exploratory which implies that research with a greater level of precision could be forthcoming.

2.      Comment on the need for this study and its importance. (NOTE: What do the authors say about why this study is needed? Is it compelling? Non-existent? Other?)

Gosling identifies the lack of empirical studies as a gap in the research on how personality manifests in OSN use.  Gosling also implies that because OSNs are becoming more omnipresent and have the potential to gather ecologically valid data, they ought to be studied.  While this presents an intellectually interesting opportunity, it leaves the reader wondering if there are any consequences to the research.  If extroverts are more social online, so what?  There is no discussion of the harm or benefits to either introverts nor extroverts of the predicted disparity in OSN usage.  Ultimately, Gosling’s rationale for his studies are identical to that of a mountain climber – because it is there.

3.      How effectively does the author tie the study to relevant theory and prior research? (Do they cover the right literature? Anything missing? Anything not needed?  How comprehensive? Tied to their conceptual framework?)

To establish the theoretical basis for this empirical study Gosling contrasts two competing theories for understanding the effect of personality upon online interactions.  Specifically, the rich-get-richer and social-compensation theories.  Gosling dismisses social-compensation for two reasons.  First, Gosling cites evidence indicating that online and offline personalities tend to be consistent.  This evidence is inadequate to the task, he notes that there is evidence in online aggression studies that “online personality could diverge from offline personality” (S. D. Gosling, Augustine, Vazire, Holtzman, & Gaddis, 2011).  Then he proceeds to critique the ecological validity of that piece of research and substitute his critique as affirmation of the consistency between online and offline personalities.  This is questionable reasoning, which if proven false would undermine major aspects of his research.  If online personalities are substantially different than offline, Gosling’s rationale that OSN’s provide ecologically valid contexts for examining psychological phenomena vanishes.  Additionally, any analysis of correlations between online and offline behavior would be suspect.  Second, he offers a stronger argument for the rich-get-richer theory that online interactions are more likely to be used in support of existing relationships, which implies a connection between the social aspects of online and offline behavior – but only if the first rationale is true.

4.      Evaluate the clarity and appropriateness of the research questions or hypotheses. (NOTE: Either their explicit or implied questions. Appropriateness can take many forms, but especially its’ connection to 1-3 above)

Gosling proposes two research questions to examine the relationship between personality and OSN use.  First, he posits that personality traits associated with offline socialization will result in greater utilization of OSNs, namely Facebook.  Secondly, different personalities will leave behind observable evidence detectable by unacquainted observers.  The rich-get-richer theory argues that people who are socially successful offline will be successful online.  Specific characteristics of personality (extroversion, agreeableness) have been demonstrated in other contexts to lead to greater social success, therefore the theory predicts that these same qualities will lead to online success.  Gosling’s study aims to test the strength of this prediction empirically, therefore appropriately providing a means of gauging the predictive value of the rich-get-richer theory.

B. Research Design and Analysis

1.               Critique the appropriateness and adequacy of the study’s design in relation to the research questions or hypotheses. (NOTE: Try to name a design — pre-post; longitudinal, quasi-experimental; experimental; ethnographic; qualitative (which kind?); etc. Then try to talk about if that design is or is not well-suited to answer the type of research questions that were stated.

Gosling’s research designs are appropriate for two reasons – the theory he is testing (rich-get-richer) implies that there should be a positive correlation between these two variables, and his dual hypotheses and their inherently divergent methodology serve to buttress the argument for a connection between personality and social media use.  Since causation cannot be established in correlational research, dual measures of correlation will lead to a stronger argument for a connection between the variables.  Correlational research is also appropriate due to the difficulty involved in measuring complex cognitive factors involved in personality or human action.  These processes inherently involve a great deal of complex motivations and incentive making causation difficult to discern.

2.      Critique the adequacy of the study’s sampling methods (e.g., choice of participants) and their implications for generalizability.

Gosling uses both compensated and uncompensated volunteer sampling methods for obtaining participants in his dual studies.  In both studies, Gosling uses a diverse set of psychology students from public universities.  The sampling pool has some limits for generalizability based upon the characteristics of undergraduate psychology students.  In the second study, Gosling’s team provides significant incentives (candy, academic credit, cash, and entry into a drawing) for participation in the study.  Given the amount of data that the researchers would need to extract from the participants’ Facebook profiles and the complexity of the sign-up process (groups of five friends at a time), it is understandable why such an incentive process might be necessary to obtain a large enough participant group.

3.      Critique the adequacy of the study’s procedures and materials (e.g., interventions, interview protocols, data collection procedures). (NOTE: Sometimes it’s helpful to think of “procedures” as all the steps taken to get to the point of data analysis. Example: obtained consent; randomly sampled, filled out questionnaire, etc.)

In both studies Gosling utilizes questionnaires to obtain data which are all structured off the externally validated Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI).  The consistent use of this questionnaire throughout both studies facilitates the ease of comparison of results.  Gosling appropriately uses the TIPI as a self-report measure when examining personality attributes, as it is difficult to determine personality characteristics through other methods.  One drawback of the TIPI is that it is a very transparent assessment tool, which may afford participants opportunities to give socially desirable answers.

In Study-1 Gosling also created an 11-item self-report Facebook questionnaire, which is not included in the article.  In the second study, Gosling’s team made extensive modifications to the TIPI.  In both cases it would have been helpful to examine these instruments for a more thorough analysis of materials.  It is entirely possible, even probable, that the omission of these test instruments from the article were due to constraints on length imposed by the publisher.

At times Gosling’s description of his procedures is incredibly vague such as when describing the administration of the personality questionnaire in Study-2.  At other times Gosling is much more specific in describing procedures when the description is more salient to the discussion.  For example, in Study-2, the instructions and limits placed upon the unacquainted observers is very detailed.  Additionally, in Study-2, Gosling wisely controls for the total amount of content available on Facebook pages by limiting photographs to 10 randomly chosen samples, so that similar quantities of information are available for each target.

4.      Critique the appropriateness and quality (e.g., reliability, validity) of the measures used. (NOTES: Google reliability and validity. To what extent do the authors discuss these issues and what implications does this have for their study?)

Gosling’s primary instrument is the TIPI, which he created himself.  The TIPI like its name states, is only a ten-item instrument designed for use in time-constrained situations.  The TIPI reverses pairs of questions about five personality types as a check for internal consistency of responses (S. Gosling, 2018), and reportedly has high levels of convergence with other instruments.  While the diagnostic value of the TIPI could be debated and has been criticized for having low alpha values – a measure of internal consistency (S. Gosling, 2018), the face validity of Gosling’s methods appears to be high.  For example, extroverts have greater numbers of friends, and spend more time on other people’s pages, conscientious (disciplined) people spend less time on Facebook.  Gosling has also described these studies as exploratory, a more rigorous instrument would most likely be used in subsequent research – but given the exploratory nature of these studies, the TIPI appears to be a good fit.

5.      Critique the adequacy of the study’s data analyses. For example: Have important statistical assumptions been met? Are the analyses appropriate for the study’s design? Are the analyses appropriate for the data collected? (NOTE: Consider also if the analyses actually answer the questions being asked)

Gosling’s research questions are about establishing correlational support for two hypotheses predicted by the rich-get-richer theory.  Therefore, data is primarily reported using the r-value to demonstrate the strength and direction of correlation.  Since some personality traits are expected to have negative correlations to OSN usage (conscientiousness) and others are expected to have a positive correlation (extroversion), the r-value is an appropriate tool for illustrating these bidirectional relationships.  Gosling also has compared his results against a null-hypothesis to indicate where p-values were <0.05 and delineates when results are of statistical significance.

C. Interpretation and Implications of Results

1.      Critique the author’s discussion of the methodological and/or conceptual limitations of the results. (NOTE: Just like we did in class)

Gosling’s discussions of the limitations of his research are extremely sparse.  The first limitation mentioned is that since some behaviors leave no residue behind, they are difficult to detect through observation.  Gosling notes this when discussing the results of Study-2 and indicates that since low conscientiousness and high agreeableness (which were correlated in Study-1 to page views) leave no evidence behind, they could not account for the effects of those personality attributes.  The only other indication that Gosling considered the limitations of this research occurs earlier in the article as a brief mention of the limits of self-reported data being part of the rationale for the second study.  Readers would benefit from a more robust discussion of the limitations of these studies such as that the correlational nature of the research cannot establish cause and effect, or that the TIPI has drawbacks as a tool.  Also, since Gosling only provided limited evidence that an individual’s behavior online is consistent with their behavior offline, there is reason to be suspicious of the ecological validity of his results.  Lastly, Gosling’s sample of exclusively university student volunteers and the problems for generalizability are not even mentioned as part of the discussion.

2.      How consistent and comprehensive are the author’s conclusions with the reported results? (NOTE: Do they over-state or understate their findings? Does their conclusions “go beyond the data.” Have they not talked about something they should have?)

Gosling uses the strength of correlation between OSN behaviors and extroversion to argue that personality has significant effects upon online behavior.  This may be overstating the case.  Of the five main personality attributes identified at the outset of the study, only extroversion could be correlated in both studies with OSN behavior.  While agreeableness and openness had support in Study-1 as indicators of social success online, they could not be cross-validated using valid cues in the second study.  Gosling’s conclusions should be stated more carefully to indicate that only extroversion satisfied the inherent criteria in both research questions.

3.      How well did the author relate the results to the study’s theoretical base? (NOTE: The theoretical base (conceptual framework + literature review) were established in the introduction. Do they return to this framework and talk about how their data fits — or doesn’t — within this framework?)

In the concluding general discussion Gosling is very selective in his support for his theoretical framework (the rich-get-richer theory).   Gosling briefly returns the framework noting that personality processes are “alive and well in OSNs”.  Instead, Gosling spends the bulk of his general discussion examining how cues identified and missed by observers of webpages fit within the Realistic Accuracy Model.  Gosling does, however, discuss the evidence he has uncovered for the relationship between personality and OSN behavior -specifically, extroversion.  Gosling then also speculates that openness is expressed through increased photograph posting, which is difficult to connect to the data in his research.

4.      In your view, what is the significance of the study, and what are its primary implications for theory, future research, and practice? (Remember: Be specific)

Despite it’s flaws Gosling’s exploratory study does give limited support for the predictive value of the rich-get-richer theory, especially when it comes to the personality trait of extroversion.  As an exploratory study the findings are significant enough to warrant further study, possibly using more robust personality inventories than the TIPI.  Gosling indicates a worthwhile point of inquiry raised by this study, which is that the unacquainted observers were able to successfully predict the degree of openness in the personality of a target, despite not utilizing valid cues.  Gosling is right to indicate that this might be an area for future exploration.

Works Referenced:

Gosling, S. (2018). Gosling Lab Page. Retrieved from

Gosling, S. D., Augustine, A. A., Vazire, S., Holtzman, N., & Gaddis, S. (2011). Manifestations of Personality in Online Social Networks: Self-Reported Facebook-Related Behaviors and Observable Profile Information. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(9), 483-488. doi:10.1089/cyber.2010.0087