Your online personality quiz results are in. You found an official, research backed test, because you wanted the real deal—what does the science say about your personality. You even convinced you best friend to do it. You’ve looked at the results, and you can see some interesting scores: you’re more extraverted than your friend, but she’s more conscientious than you (of course). But you’re still wondering what that really means? So you’re extraverted—what does that mean for your daily life? What do extraverts DO that’s different from other people?
Luckily, a new paper from my research group answers just this question. This paper combines data from four large-scale studies that used the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) to determine how personality relates to day-to-day activities. Participants in these studies agreed to carry around a smartphone with the EAR app on it during their day-to-day lives. The EAR app would record short bursts of sound—30 seconds, 60 seconds, or 90 seconds, depending on the study—at semi-random intervals throughout the day (typically every 10 minutes or so). Then our expert behavioral coders listened.
Each recording was carefully coded for various behaviors, and any speech (by the participant who agreed to be recorded) was written down (to see what words they used). The coders were able to capture some obvious categories, like whether the participant was speaking or laughing, and some less obvious categories, like whether the participant was with a friend or a family member. Software was used to analyze the different types of words that people used in their daily lives. Our research team then compared all these measures of daily life to people’s personality scores.
The research question was open-ended. If you say you’re more extraverted (on the personality test), what does that really mean in your daily life? Doing this for each personality trait was like unwrapping a series of gifts. No psychologists had combined this much data on the sounds of daily life before, and so the relationships we were about to uncover were going to be the best description of personality and daily life (as captured by audio) available to the field. So what did we find?
What Extraverts Do Most: Use more words! The strongest indicator that someone is an extravert is that they literally say more words in their day-to-day life. What Extraverts Do Least: Cough and sneeze. This is a surprising one, and will probably require further study of chains of effects to really understand. One possibility: being lonely is related to poor health, so it might be that all that extra socializing extraverts do keeps them healthier—and therefore less likely to cough and sneeze!
Most “On the Money”: Extraverts talk more. This should come as no surprise, because it feels like it’s part of the definition of being an extravert. But it’s nice to have the science here to back it up. The more extraverted you are, the greater the percentage of your day spent talking. Most Surprising Relationship: Extraverts complain more, and express anger and frustration more. Ok that’s two, but I think it’s important to note that there are some downsides to being an extravert. Being outgoing can also mean being more difficult to deal with.
What Agreeable People Do Most: Yawn. Yes, yawn. This is another surprising one, and one that will definitely require further research. My best guess at what it means? Yawning tends to be contagious, so agreeable people might be “catching” more yawns from those around them, since they tend to be more focused on pleasing others.
What Agreeable People Do Least: Spend time outdoors. Another strange one, but you have to report the data you have. What might be going on? If agreeable people want to please others, they probably are spending less time “getting away from it all” on hikes or other activities. Most “On the Money”: Agreeable people express more gratitude. During conversations in their daily life, they’re more likely to tell people what they appreciate. Close second: using the word “we” (instead of “I” or “me”) in conversation, a good indicator of trying to connect with others.
Most Surprising Relationship: More than yawning and spending time outdoors? Maybe not, but it is interesting: more agreeable people tend to focus on the past more in their daily conversations. Maybe they’re connecting more with others by talking about things they did together.
What Conscientious People Do Most: Eat and drink. In another surprising finding, conscientious people spend a greater proportion of their day eating and drinking. This could be because they are less likely to skip meals, because they are more likely to remember snacks to keep their blood sugar up, or for some other reason. What Conscientious People Do Least: Commute! The more conscientious a person was, the less time they spent “in transit” from place to place. Maybe planning out your day efficiently is part of the magic of this trait?
Most “On the Money”: Conscientious people spend more time working. Part of what we think it means to be conscientious is that a person is more likely to just put their head down and get their work done—and this finding would certainly support that understanding. Interesting second: conscientious people spend less time blaming others. How’s that for taking responsibility?
Most Surprising Relationship: Use non-fluencies like “umm” and “uhhh.” You’d think that conscientious people might be more “orderly” in how they speak, like they are in other areas of their lives—but you’d be wrong. It could be that this indicates conscientious people spend more time pausing to consider their words or hedge their statements—and use the “umms” to indicate this uncertainty.
What Neurotic People Do Most: Blame others. Neuroticism is thought of as a tendency to experience a lot of negative emotions, so it would make sense that some of these get visited on the people around a negative person. What Neurotic People Do Least: Eat and drink. Another surprising one, but this might reflect a tendency by anxious or sad people to skip meals or forget to eat.
Most “On the Money”: Express negative emotion. The words that neurotic people use in their daily lives just tend to be more negative. Close second: swearing. Most Surprising Relationship: Express affection. Neurotic people might tend to be negative overall, but that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the people around them. They might have more to appreciate, because these friends are willing to put up with the blaming, negativity, and swearing that are part of their daily lives.
What Open Minded People Do Most: Use conjunctions like “and” or “also.” This could be an indicator of open-minded people’s tendency to make intellectual or artistic connections between different topics. What Open Minded People Do Least: Use verbs. This is a pretty unusual finding, as verbs are a common part of speech. It’s not clear what this means psychologically, but it might be that open people tend to talk about ideas more—and actions less—leading to less verb use overall.
Most “On the Money”: Not saying no. It turns out openness tended to be related more to *not* doing things than to doing them, so it’s no surprise that the most intuitive indicator was not using “negation” words like “no” or “not” in conversation. Part of being open-minded is not dismissing ideas!
Most Surprising Relationship: Open people tend to talk about death more. This might be because they’re more willing to discuss taboo subjects, or it might be that exploring different ideas tends to lead them to have more philosophical conversations.
What do we learn from all this? In science, we tend to treat the Ideal Study as one where we have a theory that we want to test, and the study will be able to support to disprove our theory. But in new areas of science—as the science of daily behavior is—you often need to start by just describing what’s going on in the world. This study revealed some relationships that are consistent with theory about personality traits (or “on the money”), but it also yielded a lot of surprising results, too. These surprising results are interesting, because they suggest new directions for research—and can be the basis for coming up more specific theories. Did it surprise me that agreeable people yawn a lot? Yes! But that just means we need to do more work to try and understand whether that’s a reliable effect, and if it is, why the relationship exists. In the meantime, knowing what personality means in daily life will at least make our studies—and online personality tests—more interesting.