The power of social networks to measure and track the relationships of millions of people has been noted by scientists for years, but so far, attempts to do serious research have been fairly limited. A pair of psychology students in the United Kingdom is out to change that, though, with an application that’s been around since 2007, called My Personality.
David Stillwell, the app’s creator, reached out to us last week when we pointed out the dearth of quality tests and quizzes on Facebook. Quiz-making companies have so far failed to find much success, because few quiz apps can retain users, much less effectively monetize them. Many quizzes have relied on questionable methods to succeed, and Facebook has responded by banning quite a few.
But those quizzes generally also share a casual theme and relatively low quality level. Stillwell, who is doing research on decision-making at Nottingham University, has teamed up with another grad student at Cambridge University to create quizzes that simultaneously give users results that really mean something, and generate professional-quality data for use by companies and other researchers.
The lynchpin to Stillwell’s efforts is the vast repository of psychological tests that pre-exists in his profession. “Personality questionnaires have been available to researchers for years and years, but most of us don’t have any business interest,” Stillwell told me. “It’s just a shame to see them sitting there, basically unused.”
People using My Personality today will find that the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, one of the field’s more famous personality tests, is central to the app. To find people’s personality type, the MBTI asks a series of questions about choices and desires — the more the test taker can answer, the better. At the end, the taker receives one of 16 different four-letter designations that tells them their balance of characteristics like extraversion and intraversion, or thinking and feeling.
Although the MBTI has been used for decades (it draws from Carl Jung, the famous psychologist pictured above), its basic insights into personality have never been connected back to the relationships that people build, according to Stillwell. If you’re an introverted thinker, for example, how does that effect your social network? Who do you work and play well with, and who are you likely to strike sparks with? Or, for marketers, what sort of media and products do you prefer?
These basic questions are the core of My Personality’s value. If users agree to share when they first take a test (each has a lengthy disclaimer, as well), Stillwell can anonymize the results and analyze the data, alongside information from a user’s profile and connections, for hidden facts about human nature. Doing so could not only net the two graduate students some professional respect; companies are also interested in the information, and may well pay significantly for it.
For now, there are seven quizzes within My Personality, including a couple silly ones, like “My Star Sign Personality”. But going forward, Stillwell intends to incorporate more serious research subjects into his application. An IQ test, for instance, would be fine as long as the user has the option of hiding their test results or deleting them when done.
In the long-term, what My Personality is doing has the potential to revolutionize psychology. Take My Personality’s user count right now — with just over 600,000 monthly active users, it’s not the biggest Facebook app around, but by the standards of clinical research, it’s huge. Social networks may yet tell us something new about ourselves.