Instagram has become a popular platform for self-expression, allowing users to showcase and share their personal interests, experiences, and memorable moments. But can people truly judge someone's personality based solely on Instagram profiles? My colleagues and I delved into this fascinating topic.

What clues might be in Instagram posts that could help you figure out their users' personalities? We looked at how much individuals used Instagram, what types of content and themes they posted, and their profiles' aesthetic styles and color schemes. We found that profile elements can indeed convey certain aspects of Instagram users' personalities. We could find this out because, in our study, the users had volunteered to have us measure their personality, and even to have acquaintances of theirs tell us about the users' personality.

So, if the clues are there, how do people form impressions of someone's personality when encountering their Instagram profile for the first time? Participants in the study viewed Instagram profiles of strangers and judged the personality traits of the users. These judgments were then compared to features of Instagram accounts and users' self- and peer-reported personality traits.

Viewers' guesses about the users' personality were linked to certain aspects of the users' Instagram content and profile appearances. This included viewers' impressions of emotional stability, extraversion, openness to new experiences, agreeableness, conscientiousness, self-esteem, and narcissism. For example, users posting many appearance-focused self-images were guessed to be more extraverted, self-confident, narcissistic, and less agreeable. Users high in openness tended to create more aesthetic professionally looking profiles which viewers judged to be higher in openness, conscientiousness, self-esteem, and narcissism. Also, viewers' judgments of personality aligned to a considerable degree with the users' actual personality. However, while viewers were able to discern certain personality traits from the profiles to some extent, accuracy was not perfect.

Instagram profiles, often carefully curated, offer glimpses into individuals' lives and interests, but they do not provide a comprehensive picture of their true personalities. Judging someone's personality based solely on their Instagram profile is akin to looking through a narrow keyhole into their life. Behind every Instagram profile lies a complex individual, with the digital world offering a fascinating starting point for connection, but you must always be mindful of its limitations in deciphering the depths of human character.

For Further Reading

Osterholz, S., Mosel, E. I., & Egloff, B. (2023). #Insta personality: Personality expression in Instagram accounts, impression formation, and accuracy of personality judgments at zero acquaintance. Journal of Personality, 91, 566– 582.

Barry, C. T., McDougall, K. H., Anderson, A. C., Perkins, M. D., Lee-Rowland, L. M., Bender, I., & Charles, N. E. (2019). 'Check your selfie before you wreck your selfie': Personality ratings of Instagram users as a function of self-image posts. Journal of Research in Personality, 82, 103843.

Cooper, A. B., Blake, A. B., Pauletti, R. E., Cooper, P. J., Sherman, R. A., & Lee, D. I. (2020). Personality assessment through the situational and behavioral features of Instagram photos. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 36, 959–972. https://doi. org/10.1027/1015-5759/a000596

Sarah Osterholz is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Mainz, Germany.