Personality & Social Networks: A Field Experiment on Social Media

Last registered on April 16, 2024


Trial Information

General Information

Personality & Social Networks: A Field Experiment on Social Media
Initial registration date
April 12, 2024

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
April 16, 2024, 3:15 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.



Primary Investigator

University of Tuebingen

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Tuebingen
PI Affiliation
Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien (IWM), Tuebingen

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial is based on or builds upon one or more prior RCTs.
In this study, we conduct a field experiment examining the formation of personal social networks. Using fictitious social media profiles on the social networking site Instagram that show photos signaling high (low) conscientiousness and agreeableness/neuroticism, respectively – which are key dimensions of the Big Five personality traits relevant to selection decisions, we study the effect of these personality traits on the acceptance rate of friend or follower requests. The social media profiles are based on previous research (AEARCTR-0012473) that conducted several randomized online pilot experiments to verify that the visual clues posted on the profiles accurately represent the intended personality dimensions, while ensuring authenticity. In this experiment, we gather suggestions for friends or contacts to follow, leveraging a common feature of social networking platforms for receiving friend suggestions. Subsequently, we send friend or follower requests to these users and measure the rate of acceptance, as well as whether users re-follow the fictitious profile to shed light on the nuanced dynamics of personal social network formation and the role of personality traits therein.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Moritz, Raphael, Kerstin Pull and Sonja Utz. 2024. "Personality & Social Networks: A Field Experiment on Social Media." AEA RCT Registry. April 16.
Experimental Details


Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Acceptance rate
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Acceptance rate conditional on variation in social media information signaling personality traits. The acceptance rate measures whether a user accepts the friend/follow request (in case of a private profile) and/or whether a user re-follows the fictitious profile that sent the request (in case of private and/or public profiles).

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
- Profile visits, impressions, and reach of profiles/posts
- Time between sending the request and receiving an accept/decline
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Profile visits, reach, and impressions of profiles and/or posts are measured on an aggregated level using the data provided on the platform. Time variables can only be approximated as the platform does not provide accurate data on acceptances or re-follow requests and does not provide any time information on declines.

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
To examine the effect of images signaling different personality traits on the formation of personal social networks, we use four fictitious Instagram profiles. These profiles were created for a randomized controlled trial (AEARCTR-0012473) that conducts a correspondence test in the shared housing market. The study aims to investigate the effect of personality traits signaled by images on social media profiles on the callback rate for room ads in shared apartments. The social media profiles include photos that signal high (low) conscientiousness and high (low) agreeableness/low (high) neuroticism (treatment images), as well as general non-personality specific images. The present study aims to measure the rate of acceptance of friend/follower requests on social networking sites using these fictitious profiles. The study will use the 'discover friends' suggestions made by the SNS. We collect friend/contact suggestions from the social networking site (180 to 325 per profile) and send a request to follow these profiles. These suggestions are primarily based on existing networks, resulting in a subject pool of students that closely resembles the subject pool of the RCT (AEARCTR-0012473). In cases where a subject is suggested more than once, we randomly select one of the corresponding profiles to send a friend/follow request to the respective user. Data is collected on the decision of subjects regarding contact requests, including accept, decline (in case of private profiles), or re-follow (in case of private and/or public profiles). Additionally, we collect data on the degree of connection between a person and our profiles, as measured by the number of connections with a suggested profile. Furthermore, we collect publicly available data on target profiles, such as gender, number of contacts, posts, and biographical information.
Note that for the original randomized field experiment (AEARCTR-0012473), which uses the same information as this follow-up study, IRB approval was obtained from the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences of the Eberhard Karls University of Tuebingen (A2.5.4-133_aa, 2020-09-05). No new ethical issues are raised in the present project compared to the original field experiment, therefore a new ethics application was not submitted.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
n/a; the sample is rather “ad hoc” (convenience sample) since we do not know how the algorithm of the social networking site composes the suggestions. If a profile suggests the same user as a follower or friend as another profile, the user will be randomly selected to be added by one of the corresponding profiles (using a computer generated (pseudo) randomization).
Randomization Unit
Individual level (if applicable, see above)
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Four profiles are used for the high (low) conscientiousness and high (low) agreeableness/low (high) neuroticism conditions. A small pre-test of the experimental design was conducted, but due to the limited number of available profiles, personality could not be varied within this pre-test. Therefore, it is difficult to estimate a realistic minimum detectable effect size. Given these constraints, we estimate that we need approximately 180-325 subjects for friend/follow requests per condition to achieve a power of .95 (depending on effect size). Additionally, depending on the contact suggestions provided by the platform, we may require slightly more observations to ensure sufficient variation in the ‘closeness’ of the suggested contacts, thus preventing subjects from becoming aware of the experiment.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number