I was snuggled on the sofa, reading a fat book on the history of psychology. Rain pattered on the window. The wood fire was burning. All cozy and calm in my little corner of the world.
Then I turned the page.
There, on the right-hand page, was the f-word in big, bold type.
And not just the f-word. Every single permutation of the f-word: f-ed, f-ing, f-ers, and so forth.
What the %&$#@!?
Then I read the accompanying text.
What I had come across was a representation of the contents of a man’s mind.
Psychology Meets Social Media
This wasn’t some smutty book.
It was the autobiography of one of the leading positive psychologists of our time, Dr. Martin Seligman.
He was explaining this problem he had.
Traditional psychology depended on data from surveys, questionnaires, and interviews. But how much were these self-reports accurate?
Did a person’s survey answers really reflect who they were in real life?
If not, then psychology was fatally flawed. It needed a new methodology.
And Dr. Seligman thought that Big Data might have the answer.
See? Pretty dry stuff.
But I was kind of excited to find out how Dr. Seligman would solve his quest to accurately model real human experience.
Which is why the f-bomb caught me TOTALLY off guard.
Facebook Can Read Your Mind
Do you use social media? I’ll bet the answer is yes.
One of the richest sources of Big Data is social media. There’s a LOT of information on there about people. Everything you post says something about who you are.
And Dr. Seligman wanted to mine that data.
He suspected you could tell a lot about people by the words they used on social media.
In fact, he guessed that our social media posts are MORE revealing than our responses to a social scientist’s questionnaire.
So he asked 75,000 volunteers if they’d mind allowing his team access to their Facebook posts.
After analyzing 14.3 million Facebook posts…
He found that he could tell with 92% accuracy whether a person was male or female, just by looking at the words they used.
Men Speak Malese, Women Speak Femalese
Remember when Dr. John Gray claimed that men and women are from different planets?
Well, it turns out that those two planets each speak a different language, too.
Dr. Seligman created word clouds based on the words that male Facebook users and female Facebook users used most. (Note that this study is not related to the word cloud app by Vonvon.)
And that is what I had seen when I turned the page.
On the left-hand side was the word cloud for women.
It was beautiful. Full of words and phrases like excited, cute, yay, yummy, wonderful, can’t wait, so happy, love you.
Women tended to post about topics like family, relationships, love, gratitude, anticipation, and cuteness overload.
On the right-hand page was the word cloud for men.
And that was when I knew I never wanted to see inside a man’s mind again.
What’s Really Going Through His Mind
Men like to swear.
If the word clouds are any indication, a good third of his favorite words are unprintable in polite company.
Based on what they post about on Facebook, men are also obsessed with video games, sports, war, and politics.
Their most-used words include championship, arsenal, youtube.com, himself, world cup, league, metal, war, modern warfare, beard, shave, NBA, xbox, halo.
So if you follow someone on Facebook who swears a lot and talks endlessly about sports team or video games…
That person is probably male.
And if you follow someone on Facebook who’s excited and feeling blessed and ooo-ing and ahh-ing over puppies…
That person is probably female.
Well … Duh?
We know this, right?
This is why men tend to congregate in one corner at parties while women congregate in the other.
Most of us women aren’t riveted by discussions about the NBA, Halo, and league championships.
Most men aren’t riveted by discussions about birthdays, shopping, and babies.
Those gender differences translate to what we talk about on social media.
Dr. Seligman and his team summed up their research by noting that women tend to focus on “emotional and social processes … while males mention more swear words and object references.”
A few more interesting findings:
- Contrary to popular belief, men use just as many emoticons as women.
- Men tend to get possessive when it comes to talking about their partners. Men are more likely to refer to “my wife” or “my girlfriend,” whereas women’s posts simply include “husband” or “boyfriend.”
So the next time you wonder what’s going through his head…
Is he thinking about your relationship as much as you are? Is he looking forward to the next time you’ll see each other? Is he as happy as you are?
Remember that he’s a man.
He has other things to think about.
And you may NOT want to know what those are. 😉