The way you move your smartphone can predict your personality

A team out of RMIT University, Australia, is able to use cellphone movement, messaging, and data to learn more about users’ personalities.

Oct 31, 2019 |
3 min read

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Your smartphone has gotten even smarter over the past few years. Forgot the IoT, though – nowadays, your smartphone can learn everything it needs to know about your personality based on the way you hold it.

A team of scientists based out of RMIT University, Australia, recently published a study suggesting that the technologies that have made up the backbone of smartphones for years can now be used to collect data on their users. That data, in turn, will let cellphone manufacturers – and any marketers who pay for the data – know what kind of person is handling their device.

The data-fathering tools

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The accelerometer in your phone detects the outside world in three dimensions. You’ll find this accelerometer alongside your phone’s compass and GPS. Used on a more individual level and paired with pedometers, messaging data, and more, cellphone manufacturers can build a personality file on a user.

Whether or not they do is not the question that Flora Salim is asking. Instead, Flora and her team are currently working to pull together profiles of their own by assessing accelerometer and other cellphone data on a five-point scale.

The scale and reflective behaviors

Salim and her team have built this scale by using the Big Five personality types as their foundation. These personality types break down as:

  • Extroversion
  • Openness
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Neuroticism

Extroverts, for example, will send more text messages than introverts. Salim and her team can make statistically categorize a person’s extroversion, then, by assessing how frequently they choose to communicate with other people.

Combine this data with any extraneous movements detected by a cellphone’s accelerometer, and Salim’s team will be able to tell how expressive a person is while on the phone, as well.

Note, though, that Salim and her team are not assessing the content of any messages or phone calls taking place. They are, however, taking context into account.

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A person who sends a number of text messages over the weekend, for example, might be interpreted as open or agreeable. A mass of weekday evening messages, according to Salim, indicates that the user in question is mainly dedicated to their friends or family.

The study’s external factors

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Gender, too, comes into play when assessing a person’s personality through their phone usage. While Salim and her team primarily assess the data available to them through a phone’s tools, they can then compare that data against a pre-determined character set to make assumptions about particular groups of people.

Women, for example, tend to move their phones around more frequently over the course of a day. This is the case whether they’re using the phone to contact someone or merely shifting it from room to room. As such, Salim and her team have been able to categorize the majority of women addressed in their study as more neurotic than their male counterparts.

The use of data and personality assessments

Personality assessments have been popular for a long time. While Buzzfeed has capitalized on consumers’ more obscure interests – including what kind of bread you are – Salim’s research presents a more complex picture of a personality assessment.

While Buzzfeed’s quizzes also take in consumer data, cellphones have become an essential part of many peoples’ lives. With e-commerce showing an increased drive towards mobile consumerism, many companies might be interested in taking advantage of the kind of data Salim and her team are collecting.

On the one hand, this is a boon for marketers and advertisers everywhere. Should Salim’s data-gathering process become readily available, then marketers will be able to target their ad campaigns towards potential consumers more effectively.

For consumers, though, this may be just another invasion of privacy. While hyper-targeted ads do put consumers in touch with more usable products, that kind of surveillance can be as much of a turn off as it is enticing.

It’s possible, thanks to Salim’s work, that while some cellphone users will make an effort to increase their use of their phones, others may look for ways to disable the accelerometer to keep their data private.

Regardless of the work, Salim and her team have done revealed a new way in which cellphones can impact a person’s life. Instead of taking personality tests in the future, cellphone users may find themselves looking to their devices to learn more about themselves in the future.

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