Smartphone Usage Data Could Reveal Personality Dimension of Users: Study
Fri, December 9, 2022

Smartphone Usage Data Could Reveal Personality Dimension of Users: Study


Smartphone usage can reflect many things about users. One of them is personality based on usage patterns, according to a recent study.

Smartphone usage patterns as predictors of personality dimensions were investigated by a group of psychologists. They found that smartphone usage data could determine the likely personality traits of a user. They were able to apply the data on the Big Five measurement to predict the user's possible personality. They also revealed the predictors of three of the Big Five personality dimensions. They published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Could People Live Without Smartphones?

When mobile technology received its major innovation, people have been able to do many tasks normally exclusive to larger devices, such as desktop computers and laptops. These tasks include video communication, media editing, and gaming. And with major updates on Android OS and iOS, people cannot get enough of their smartphones. They can do nearly everything at the tip of their fingers while on the move.

According to YouGov, a British internet-based market research firm, people who could not use their smartphones were likely to experience anxiety and worry. Many could also feel weird without using their phones for one day. In a survey conducted between February 25 and 26, 2019, British adults aged 18 to 24 years were prone to anxiety when not using their smartphone, across all age groups. About 72% said they would worry because their family and friends could not reach them, 67% said they would be nervous because they would not know if someone tried to reach them, and 59% said they would feel anxious because they could not constantly communicate with family and friends.



In terms of feeling weird, 45% of British adults aged 18 to 24 years would feel weird without using a smartphone for a day. Their reason was they would not know what else to do. While 19% would feel nervous because they would be disconnected from their online identity. However, some recognized the benefits of not using a smartphone for a short time. About 43% said they were able to focus on their tasks, 44% said they were able to pay attention to what was going on around them, and 29% said they felt relieved of being free from their device for a day.

Still, not everyone was able to experience the benefits of not using a smartphone for 24 hours. Around 24% said they could not focus on what they were doing, 20% said they could pay attention to the world around them, and 34% said that they did not feel relieved without their smartphone for a day.



Personality Traits Based on Smartphone Use Patterns

Regardless of what a person may be doing with their smartphone, the time spent on the device creates a usage pattern. If using a smartphone constantly means dependence, the usage pattern will likely be a clue to their personality traits. The patterns can show their app activities, such as web browsing, social media use, and mobile gaming. These patterns are enough to hint one or two personality traits.

A team of psychologists investigated if these patterns could reveal the personality traits of users. They examined how much detail these patterns could provide. Their research involved six classes of behavior to examine personality dimensions, specifically the Big Five. The classes were communication and social behavior, music consumption, app usage, mobility, overall phone activity, and day- and night-time activities.

Psychologists pooled the data from three separate studies. A total of 743 volunteers were recruited via forums, flyers, social media, and other methods, between September 2014 and January 2018. The final study sample was 624 participants. Out of that, 377 were women, 243 were men, four with undisclosed gender, and 20% had a university degree.

"We assessed personality in terms of the Big Five dimensions, the most widely used and well-established system in psychological science for organizing personality traits," said Clemens Stachl, study's lead author and from Stanford University, quoted US magazine Psychology Today.

While the three studies were quite different, all of them used the German version of the Big Five Structure Inventory – an assessment of the Big Five personality dimensions. Psychologists also used the naturalistic smartphone usage that was recorded for 30 days. The data from participants had been transferred to an encrypted server. Results from other relevant measures used in three studies were included as well.

Psychologists utilized the PhoneStudy smartphone research app. This collected behavioral data from participant-owned smartphones. After the data from different sources were analyzed, the final dataset yielded 1,821 predictors and 35 personality criteria. The identified number of logging events across all smartphones was 25,347,089 in 30 days. Then, they compared their expert prediction of personality traits to the behavioral patterns of smartphone use.



Overall, psychologists accurately predicted 57% of personality traits from smartphone usage patterns. Some traits were easier to predict than others. But the most predictable trait was sociableness while the least predictable was good-naturedness. Assertiveness, love of order, self-consciousness, and sense of duty were traits with high predictability.

In the Big Five, the best predictor of extraversion was the number of nightly calls. For conscientiousness, the best predictor is the use of a weather app at night. And lastly, the length of text messages is the best predictor of openness. These three personality dimensions seemed easier to predict of the Big Five.

Due to the nature of the study, researchers clarified the privacy concerns raised by their research. If companies could use smartphone usage patterns as predictors, they would tailor advertising and product promotion to meet personality dimensions. It might mean that users could be psychologically targeted to influence their actions. Doing so would be a clear violation of privacy.

But if done appropriately, companies could be transparent about their intent. This should enable them to offer products and services based on personality dimensions. Permitted, companies could collect behavioral data to suggest services with less bias. The only problem in this might be the potential for abuse, wherein companies would secretly change things later on.