Cutting the conversation: Understanding personality in seconds

Date: 29/03/2019 Written by: Daisy 3 minutes to read.
New Technology

First impressions are made within moments – 100 milliseconds to be exact. However, there is so much more to learn simply by listening to the person speak; hearing about their experiences and their answers to questions can teach us so much. Unfortunately, being able to truly understand someone’s nature and personality can take time.


But what if it didn’t?

What if we could understand a person’s characteristics and personality within seconds?

This is something which has been made entirely possible through IBM Watson.

What is it?

IBM Watson has been available for the general public to use since 2015. It can analyse a body of text to provide insights into the personality of the writer. If this isn’t enough, it can also analyse Twitter accounts to provide insight into an individual’s Twitter personality – which isn’t necessarily the same as their actual personality.

It can analyse a body of text to provide insights into the personality of the writer.

The service analyses a body of text to provide insight into personality characteristics, the needs of the service user and the values which motivate their decision making. The three of these are key to understanding an individual and what would encourage them to change their behaviours.

How does it work?

There are more to our words than their explicit meaning.

The application of linguistic analytics and personality theory allows IBM Watson to pick a person’s characteristics and attributes out of a body of text. These characteristics may not be explicitly obvious within the text, but research has found that certain categories of words and variation in writing styles can help to predict personality.

So how can IBM Watson identify such characteristics which otherwise seem irrelevant to a body of text? By working under the theory that there are more to our words than their explicit meaning, and that our language is in fact a reflection on the way we think, our social connections, our emotional states and, last but not least, our personality.

What is the potential?

After conducting my own experiment with the programme, I was in a state of awe. I wrote about my life, my week and my future plans, and what it came back with was pretty accurate; I wrote nothing about films or music but yet it was able to predict that I would like musicals and wouldn’t like rap music. The IBM Watson demo can also provide a pretty accurate analysis of famous figures like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. It is because of this that I feel confident to say that there is potential for IBM Watson in research, especially with regards to that which is looking to encourage behaviour change.

I wrote nothing about films or music but yet it was able to predict that I would like musicals and wouldn’t like rap music.

Research doesn’t end after initial collection of data, and the analysis of this data is not always a straightforward process. Analysis, particularly when trying to accurately analyse to gain insight into personality, can take hours if not days. This insight into personality is key in developing effective behaviour change campaigns, as it provides valuable information as to what messages will resonate with audiences and encourage them to make changes in their everyday lives.

IBM Watson can not only eliminate the time taken for this analysis, but by predicting the values of the individual, it can also give an idea as to what motivates their decision making and therefore the decision making of the target audience group they are from, which is the very essence of making large-scale behaviour change possible.

But what about human judgement?

This judgement is made purely on written text and so does not mean we should disregard human judgement.

The potential of IBM Watson lies in its ability to identify linguistic cues which the naked eye may not be able to detect and thus predicts personality traits in moments. However, this judgement is made purely on written text and so does not mean we should disregard human judgement when analysing personality and characteristics. Unlike IBM Watson, we humans can see the body language and facial expressions that accompany words, and we can also infer true meaning through tone of voice.

Want to try it out yourself? Have a go here.

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