A study by the University of Ulm examined how the use of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram is related to socio-demographic characteristics and the “Big Five” personality traits.
2.7 billion people worldwide currently use at least one of the social media platforms Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram belonging to the Facebook group. In a study, researchers around Professor Christian Montag from the University of Ulm investigated how the use of these networks is linked to socio-demographic characteristics and the “Big Five” personality traits.
We deliberately targeted not just one platform, but three at once: “This corresponds more to the real-life reality of the users. We were able to show that they often use several social media channels, albeit in different combinations. So far, there have been not yet a study that takes this interaction into account, “says the first author Dr. Davide Marengo from the University of Turin.
Online questionnaires of around 3,000 participants from Germany who own a smartphone were evaluated for the study. The average age of the participants was 35.5 years old, the majority of the respondents were between 22 and 49 years old.
The investigation found that people who were active on at least one social media platform were generally younger, more often female, and somewhat more extrovert than non-users.
In the sample, the messenger service WhatsApp turned out to be the most frequently used platform with the greatest reach (92 percent), followed by Facebook (57.7 percent) and Instagram (46.3 percent).
The participants were also asked about the combined use of the various platforms. It showed that the largest group of the total sample used all Facebook-owned platforms (33.2 percent) at the same time. Other common combinations were the exclusive use of WhatsApp (24.1 percent), a combination of WhatsApp and Facebook (22.5 percent) and the combination of WhatsApp and Instagram (12.1 percent). None of the platforms used 5.8 percent of the participants.
“Big Five” model
The “Big Five” model was used in the questionnaire to collect personality traits. In the corresponding answers, for example, the respondents provided information about their openness to experience, conscientiousness or tolerance. In addition, socio-demographic information about users such as age or level of education has been recorded.
The statistical analysis showed that people who used at least one social media platform were generally younger and more often female. There were only minor differences in the personality variables. So social media users were a little more extroverted compared to non-users. In addition, there were also small differences within the user groups with regard to conscientiousness and neuroticism.
Age, gender or level of education
When comparing socio-demographic variables such as age, gender or level of education, the researchers found that age showed the strongest association with social media preferences.
Non-users and WhatsApp users were the oldest group at 42 to 43 years of age. The respondents who used both WhatsApp and Instagram were the youngest (average age around 26 years). “Overall, our results support the assumption that Instagram primarily attracts the younger generation of users,” explains Professor Christian Montag.
Furthermore, the study concludes that women were more represented on social media – regardless of which combination of social platforms was examined.
Additional analyzes regarding the “Big Five” personality traits have shown that within social media users especially those who used all Facebook offers or only opted for Instagram / WhatsApp were somewhat less conscientious.
“Finally, we also found that neuroticism, i.e. emotional lability, was significantly more pronounced in people who use all platforms or only WhatsApp and Instagram than in people who do not use a platform or WhatsApp only,” concludes Dr. Davide Marengo.
Overall, the study should underline the role of socio-demographic variables, but also the importance of the personality traits neuroticism and conscientiousness in the different uses of social media. The personality trait extraversion distinguishes especially social media users and non-users.
“We are convinced that our results can help to understand which population groups may be particularly susceptible to the effects of fake news or filter bubbles, which are primarily fueled by social media,” summarizes Professor Christian Montag.