Let’s Hypothesize: the internet, memes and ‘new’ words

Not only does the emergence of the internet create new terms, it also redefines existing words. The internet is a new place where people exchange information and engage in social contact. The setting of social media is quite different from the setting real life interactions. For instance, we’re able to edit and correct ourselves before posting something, however, in real life, once the words are out, we can’t take them back. We’re probably also interacting with a larger diversity of people than in real life. With this diversity, it is likely easier to create new creative content.

A very interesting part of this new creative content is memes. The term meme was coined long before people had an internet connection at home. Initially, Dawkins used it as a way to describe pieces of cultural information that are passed on between people. Memes according to him, pass on the same way as genes do. Gestures, words or rituals are spread among people and are also subject to mutations. And if we think about memes in the internet sense, the aforementioned definition still holds. Words, pop culture, specific interests, daily life situations are often spread among users of internet communities in the form of imagery or texts.

When does something become a meme?
This is a very difficult question to answer, as internet users can get quite pious in what can be labeled a meme or not. However, I believe the same principles that determine whether something becomes a meme in real life, can also be applied to the internet setting. For instance, the word “gnarly” existed long before surfer culture popularized it in the 70s.
But what exactly makes up these principles is hard to spell out. I think if this was known, businesses would gladly use this to promote their products, to make money off of this process. Sure, there have been companies that successfully, intentionally and unintentionally, used this phenomenon for brand recognition (I have seen people use Snickers’ slogan: “eat a Snickers” in online interactions). But not all companies that invest money in ‘memeing’ will achieve ‘meme status’.
Though, not only companies can earn money through memes. People and animals have become internet sensations and earned money as well (e.g. Antoine Dodson, Grumpy Cat, Ken Bone). But why do some memes catch on, while others don’t? I’m assuming timing plays a large role in this. Some attempted memes achieve virality after a few years. For example, the movie The Room was released in 2003. The first meme-like imagery was spread in 2009, while in 2010 more content was created, which kickstarted the actual meme.

Memes as words and slang
Language-wise, what is interesting, is that new definitions for existing words are created. And that the use of certain words suddenly spikes in online interactions (and gradually make its way into real life interactions as well). I recall a time when the words “I’m bored” were plastered all over my Facebook timeline. The actual meaning behind these words in that setting is fascinating. As it wasn’t just a statement of one’s internal states. With this phrase, people looked for entertainment through social interactions.
Then we had a spike in “That awkward moment…“. The internet provided the opportunity for people to open up about embarrassment they go through in daily life. Things people might not discuss in everyday face-to-face conversations, because, well, they’re embarrassing. But being able to read that you are actually quite similar to your peers takes away some of that embarrassment. Besides, a quick Google search can easily lead you to stories of people who are going through similar situations, which probably makes people less alone and ‘weird’.
Now the word “relatable” seems to be a much-used form of expression to indicate you experience similar emotions or events in your life. What is important to mention with this word is that figurative speech is imperative online. For instance, people might find a picture of a dead fish lying on the shore to be ‘relatable’. Thus, images are used to figuratively or comically express feelings.
Other, more recent slang terms are “extra“, “lit“, “dead“, and “bruh“. Much of the credit of the emergence of these new words can be given to an important online community referred to as Black Twitter. This community not only sheds light on relevant (racial) issues, such as police brutality, members of the community are also responsible for a large part of the new creative content that can be identified as memes (and slang).

Memes do not only create new ways to express emotions and create bonds between individuals, it also influences the current zeitgeist and creates discussion among groups of people (e.g. Kony 2012, #icantbreathe).

social sciences

What are you like? What does your personality predict?

Psychology has created many personality tests that help predict and understand people’s behavior. However one of the most used tests seems to be the Big Five test. This test changed a lot in it’s beginning phases, at the end of the nineteenth century. But now the test includes 5 different traits, which is often abbreviated to OCEAN.

OCEAN stands for the following traits: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. A Big Five test includes scales measuring these five constructs. The beauty of this test is that these traits have been proven to be quite stable over a (person’s) lifetime. And these constructs have been used to measure links with other behaviors or personality traits. For instance, these have been linked to political preference, work performance, health behaviors, and even your social media behavior. (Link below to take the test!)

Big Five traits
As mentioned earlier, the test measures five different traits. The first trait, openness, is about one’s openness to new experiences. If you score high on this trait, you could be considered curious, and interested in arts or music, and you have an active imagination.
Second, there is conscientiousness, this has to do with being organized. This means you’re reliable in your work, and you do things efficiently.
Then there is extraversion, probably one of the most known traits of the Big Five. People who score high on this trait are sociable, outgoing, and not likely to be reversed or timid.
The fourth trait is agreeableness, this is your tendency to agree with others and to cooperate. If you score low on this, you are more likely to blame others, start fights, and be rude.
Lastly, there is neuroticism, people who score high on this are more likely to be emotionally unstable, worry a lot, and get nervous.

Job performance
As mentioned earlier, these traits are linked to behaviors in certain settings. In a job-related setting, in which one has to be social, you could imagine that extraversion would be beneficial for performance. This turned out to be the case according to research done by Barrick and Mount (1991), They also found that conscientiousness was beneficial for most types of jobs.

Political preferences
And in terms of political preferences, center-right voters score a bit higher on conscientiousness, whereas center-left voters scored higher on agreeableness and openness (Capara, Barbaranelli, & Zimbardo, 1999).
Openness to experience is negatively related to conservatism, this means that those who tend to score low on this trait are more likely to hold conservative views. Extraversion is linked to political participation, that is carried out through group settings, which intuitively makes sense since you will be spending time with others. Furthermore, extroverts are also more likely to engage in political discussions, however, interestingly enough do not necessarily possess more political knowledge. Those who score high on openness to experience do seem to have more of this knowledge. And lastly, highly agreeable individuals tend to avoid political discussions (Mondak & Halperin, 2008), and one could speculate that they would do so to avoid situations in which they might have to disagree, this might create an uncomfortable situation.

Health behaviors 
Conscientiousness is linked to behaviors that promote health, agreeableness is linked to behaviors that include less substance use. While both behaviors predict less risk-taking in traffic situations. The same researchers that found these links argue that knowledge of such associations can improve programs aimed to increase/promote help. For instance, they propose that those scoring low on conscientiousness might benefit more from programs that involve peers (Booth-Kewely & Vickers, 1994).

Social media behaviors
Those scoring high on openness to might be more likely to share and post intellectual information (Marshall, Lefringhausen, & Ferenczi, 2015). People who use Facebook for socializing score higher on neuroticism, whereas people who use Twitter for the same purpose score higher on openness. Individuals high in neuroticism and extraversion preferred Facebook over Twitter (Hughes, Rowe, Batey,  & Lee, 2012). The amount of Facebook friends has also been studied, neuroticism is negatively linked to this amount. This means that those high in neuroticism have fewer friends. And extraversion is positively linked, thus scoring higher on this trait means having more Facebook friends. Neurotics also engage in ‘liking’ others’ posts more and are part of more Facebook groups. The authors argue that these individuals tend to experience more negative emotions and therefore are more likely to take part in behaviors that might prompt support (Bachrach et al, 2012).

Take the Big Five test!

Inventory used to describe traits, very interesting read!

Bachrach, Y., Kosinski, M., Graepel, T., Kohli, P., & Stillwell, D. (2012). Personality and patterns of Facebook usage. In Proceedings of the 4th Annual ACM Web Science Conference (pp. 24-32). ACM.
Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The big five personality dimensions and job performance: a meta‐analysis. Personnel psychology, 44(1), 1-26.
Booth‐Kewley, S., & Vickers, R. R. (1994). Associations between major domains of personality and health behavior. Journal of personality, 62(3), 281-298.
Capara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1999). Personality profiles and political parties. Political psychology, 20(1), 175-197.
Hughes, D. J., Rowe, M., Batey, M., & Lee, A. (2012). A tale of two sites: Twitter vs. Facebook and the personality predictors of social media usage. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(2), 561-569.
Marshall, T. C., Lefringhausen, K., & Ferenczi, N. (2015). The Big Five, self-esteem, and narcissism as predictors of the topics people write about in Facebook status updates. Personality and Individual Differences, 85, 35-40.
Mondak, J. J., & Halperin, K. D. (2008). A framework for the study of personality and political behaviour. British Journal of Political Science, 38(02), 335-362.