Psychologists have long argued that our ever-present mobile phones may change our personalities in various ways, but a new study done at the RMIT University in Australia has found that the way we handle our phones may, reveal some personality traits that are already there.

Speaking about the study, computer scientist Flora Salim said, “Activity like how quickly or how far we walk, or when we pick up our phones up during the night, often follows patterns and these patterns say a lot about our personality type.”

Researchers based the assumptions from their study on a psychological construct called the Big Five personality traits. According to the standards set out with the Big Five – considered the prevalent way to determine personality – people exhibit five traits, which are then used to form a picture of what their personality looks like.

These five traits are extraversion (outgoing vs. reserved), openness (curious vs. cautious), neuroticism (confidence vs. nervous), agreeableness (compassionate vs. detached) and conscientiousness (organised vs. easy-going).

Between March 2010 and July 2011, the 52 participants that took part in the study were given phones with sensing and collection hardware installed, providing researchers with accelerometer data (to monitor when and how the phone was moving), as well as providing information as to how many calls and messages were made and received, together with the time of day they were made or received.

Using this data, researchers were able to accurately predict the neuroticism, conscientiousness, and extraversion of participants.

In addition to the data researchers gathered from the mobile phones participants used, people that took part in the study also scored their own personalities on a Big Five Survey.

Researchers were able to relate certain aspects of phone use to a list of features that determined personality traits. For example, the number of calls a person makes might predict agreeableness, while physical activity on weekend nights might predict extraversion.

This study sees the first time that traditional mobile phone activity is combined with accelerometer data, and although the sample size is perhaps a bit small to make proper conclusions, it is considered a pilot study to see how mobile data can be used in this way.

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