Idealized virtual-identity hypothesis vs. Extended real-life hypothesis

Two competing hypotheses on the question: Do OSN(Online Social Network) profiles convey accurate impressions of profile owners?

Idealized virtual-identity hypothesis vs. Extended real-life hypothesis

1. Idealized virtual-identity hypothesis: A widely held assumption, supported by content analyses, suggests that OSN profiles are used to create and communicate idealized selves (Manago, Graham, Greenfield, & Salimkhan, 2008). According to this, profile owners display idealized characteristics that do not reflect their actual personalities. Thus, personality impressions based on OSN profiles should reflect profile owners’ ideal-self views rather than what the owners are actually like.

2. Extended real-life hypothesis: OSNs may constitute an extended social context in which to express one’s actual personality characteristics, thus fostering accurate interpersonal perceptions. OSNs integrate various sources of personal information that mirror those found in personal environments, private thoughts, facial images, and social behavior, all of which are known to contain valid information about personality (Ambady & Skowronski, 2008; Funder, 1999; Hall & Bernieri, 2001; Kenny, 1994; Vazire & Gosling, 2004). Moreover, creating idealized identities should be hard to accomplish because (a) OSN profiles include information about one’s reputation that is difficult to control (e.g., wall posts) and (b) friends provide accountability and subtle feedback on one’s profile. Accordingly, the extended real-life hypothesis predicts that people use OSNs to communicate their real personality. If this supposition is true, lay observers should be able to accurately infer the personality characteristics of OSN profile owners.

In the present study, the two competing hypotheses are tested. The results were consistent with the extended real-life hypothesis and contrary to the idealized virtual-identity hypothesis. These results suggest people are not using their OSN profiles to promote an idealized virtual identity. Instead, OSNs might be an efficient medium for expressing and communicating real personality, which may help explain their popularity.

From Mitja D. Back, Juliane M. Stopfer, Simine Vazire, Sam Gaddis, Stefan C. Schmukle, Boris Egloff1, and Samuel D. Gosling, Facebook Profiles Reflect Actual Personality, Not Self-Idealization, Psychological Science 21(3) 372–374.


About Kyoung Jun Lee
Professor of Kyung Hee Univ.

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