New research reveals how the messages we post to social media may be communicating even more than we think.

By Barbara Stepko
May 29, 2015
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We all have that one friend who shares way too much on Facebook: You haven't talked to her in years, yet you know the ins and outs of her nasty divorce and what she's had for breakfast all week. Well, don't fault her too much. It's just who she is—totally neurotic—suggests new research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Psychologists at London’s Brunel University teased out this trend and others by gathering data from 555 Facebook users. After participants completed online surveys that measured the Big Five personality traits (extroversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness), as well as self-esteem and narcissism, researchers found that the participants' personalities tended to influence the types of things they posted on their Facebook pages.

Dr. Tara Marshall, a psychology lecturer from Brunel University in London conceded in a press release, "It might come as little surprise that Facebook status updates reflect people’s personality traits. However, it is important to understand why people write about certain topics on Facebook ... Greater awareness of how one’s status updates might be perceived by friends could help people to avoid topics that annoy more than they entertain.”

In other words, the messages we post may be communicating even more than we think—the silliest things we post on Facebook may actually reflect what's going on under the surface, all the way down to the core of our personalities in some cases. Check out the common patterns the researchers revealed.

When every update is about their kids

What it means: In the study, people whose posts were mostly about their children were more likely to be conscientious.

Organized, responsible, and hardworking, these people use Facebook less frequently than their peers. When they do log on, they tend to stick with “safe,” low-key topics like happy family news and funny things from everyday life. No down-and-dirty gossip here—they’re pretty discreet. They also tend to have more Facebook friends compared to other personality types.

When every smooth move their partner makes is announced

What it means: Researchers tied this behavior to low self-esteem or insecurity.

Behind the How did I get so lucky? braggadocio is a need to boost self-worth, suppress insecurities, and offer reassurance that a relationship is still going strong. Sadly, these status updates get fewer "Likes" and actually make the people who post them seem less, well, likable.

When their updates are mostly political beliefs and intellectual stuff

What it means: This was linked to open-mindedness, curiosity, and creativity.

Forget the mindless chit-chat: These people see Facebook as a way of getting a message out and sharing need-to-know info—say, a “gotta read” book that just blew them away or a worthwhile cause that could use some attention.

When every status is a photo of them with a big group of friends

What it means: They're extroverted.

For gregarious and talkative types, Facebook is a way to shoot the breeze with other people, and show off their fabulous social life. These people post frequently and, not surprisingly, have a wide circle of friends who make many appearances in their feed.

When the drama never ends

What it means: This was related to neuroticism.

Bring on the angry-face and sob emojis! Neurotic people are anxious, and so they use Facebook to get the attention and support that you may feel is missing from their life offline by airing every grievance in a dramatic fashion. They are likely to use Facebook for validation. Pretty much everything is fair game here: Posts can be emotional and deeply personal.

When every other update is about their sick abs

These types of posts come from exhibitionists, who most likely take great care in their personal appearance, and seek attention by frequently boasting about accomplishments. These updates receive a lot of “Likes” and comments, but here’s the catch: Researchers surmise that although narcissists’ bragging seems to pay off—because their status updates receive plenty of “Likes” and comments—it could be that their so-called Facebook friends are merely being polite, while secretly hating the “Look at me!” displays. Ya think?