Capsule: Sites seem to show a true face

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A prevailing theory in psychology has been that people use their social-networking pages to protect an idealized version of themselves, not the person they really are. That may not be so.

In one of the first studies to attempt to answer this question, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Johannes Gutenberg-University in Germany recruited 236 female college students, ages 17 to 22, in Germany and the United States. Using a number of psychological measures, they assessed the personalities of the participants and then perused the participants’ online pages to form impressions of their personality.

The study, published recently in the journal Psychological Science, showed that peoples’ profiles do reflect their true selves. It was easiest to authenticate such personality traits as extroversion and openness from social-networking pages, somewhat harder to gauge neuroticism. But, overall, people didn’t idealize their Facebook selves, as some researchers had suspected they might.

Instead, the authors wrote, “Online social networks might be an efficient medium for expressing and communicating real personality, a finding that may help explain their popularity.” It’s likely that interactions with friends keep people honest, the researchers said.

A word of caution: This study didn’t attempt to identify or measure people who use online social-networking pages for nefarious purposes. A stranger you meet on a social networking site is still a stranger.