Can The IBM Watson Personality Insights Service Really Tell You Who You Are In 100 Words?

It's a good thing my job is conducive to feeding my deep-seated need to take as many personality tests as possible and publicly share my results, because here we are with another one: The IBM Watson Personality Insights service claims it can tell you exactly who you are based on a writing sample of at least 100 words — which naturally means I had to give it a test run. Because, I mean… really, Watson? You're pretty amazing and all — but do you really think you can explain the inner workings of my psyche to me? We don't even know each other, so you'll excuse me if I think that's a bit presumptuous of you.

According to IBM itself, the IBM Watson Personality Insights service “uses linguistic analytics to infer cognitive and social characteristics, including Big Five, Values, and Needs, from communications that the user makes available, such as email, text messages, tweets, forum posts and more.” Why would we need a computer to analyze our writing? Seemingly in order to help us “understand, connect to, and communicate with other people on a more personalized level.” We've gone over the Big Five personality model before (as well as why it might be flawed), but in case you need a refresher, it consists of the following traits: Extroversion, Openness, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Neuroticism (or, as I like to call it, the Why I See Faces In Inanimate Objects personality trait). So basically, for any chunk of text of 100 words or more, the IBM Watson Personality Insights service will take your writing, run some analyses on it, and allegedly be able to tell you all about your personality type.


I'll be honest: I was a little skeptical going into this whole thing. IBM has certainly been doing some interesting things lately, but as we saw in the case of the IBM Tone Analyzer, I'm still not convinced that computers really know what to do with writing penned by actual humans. Besides, we don't all show the same side of ourselves all the time, either live and in-person or when we express ourselves in writing. We're multi-faceted beings, so I was fairly certain that the output would likely change based on the style of writing used as the sample.

To test it out, I ran two of my own pieces of writing through the program, one about something kind of serious, and the other about one of the goofiest topics I've ever covered. Here's what it said about me when I used an excerpt from this post about the badass, feminist, body positive wonderfulness that is Shameless Photography's modern pin-up work:

And here's what it had to say about me:

My personality traits visualization looks like this:

To be fair, it got a lot of things right; I do generally strive towards well-being, and I think it's important to take care of others around me. I'm also not huge on tradition, mostly because I don't consider "because that's the way it's always been” to be a valid reason not to change if change is necessary. However, I'm not at all “intermittent” (anyone who knows me knows how single-minded I can get while working on “difficult tasks for a long period of time”), and hilariously, I scored very highly on extroversion. Spoiler: I am very much an introvert.

Then, for contrast, I used a few paragraphs from this post about a sexy chicken nugget (I did say it was goofy):

Here's my second personality description:

And my second visualization:

It's worth noting that there are some similarities between this one and the previous one; apparently in this clip, I still don't really do “tradition” very well, for example. I did, however, score much lower on extroversion — only 20 percent, as opposed to 81. That's probably more in line with how I actually am, but the difference between the two figures is staggering.

So: Does the IBM Watson Personalight Insights service work? Sort of, but only to an extent. In order to get a really accurate reading on your personality, you'd have to plug a huge variety of different pieces of writing into it — one for each of the many faces we all have — and take a look at them all together… which, to be honest, seems like a pretty tall order to me. Still, though — maybe it's useful in another way. It's proof of the power of writing, and of the fact that we can express so much by choosing our words carefully.

Remember what I was saying the other day about what our word choices reveal about us? Consider this whole thing another piece of the puzzle. Words matter — so pick them wisely.

Images: Green Heat/Flickr; Giphy; Lucia Peters/Bustle (6)