In a surprising irony, a recent study has found that Wikipedia members score lower on traits of agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness.

Wikipedia has long been touted as a transparent anyone-can-edit encyclopedia of the world’s knowledge. Articles published in it are hypothetically edited by group consensus. One might theorize that in order to produce a successful and accurate encyclopedia in this manner, members would have to be, to a certain degree, more agreeable and conscientious than those who don’t choose to edit it.

The study recruited 139 people online, of which 69 were active Wikipedia members. Men compromised 85.5% of the Wikipedia members and women, 14.5%. It’s not clear exactly how the researchers did their recruiting, which may have resulted in a less-than-random sample.

Participants were administered two questionnaires: the BFI, which tests the “big five” personality traits — conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — and the Real Me questionnaire, which asks four questions focusing on the ease with which participants opened up to their online friends compared to their offline friends.

Confirming their primary hypothesis, the researchers found that Wikipedia members feel more comfortable expressing themselves online than they do offline. The researchers also found Wikipedia members scored significantly lower on the traits of openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness:

It may be that the prosocial behavior apparent in Wikipedia is primarily connected to egocentric motives, such as personal expression, raising self-confidence, and group identification, motives which are not associated with high levels of agreeableness.

Another interesting result was the significant difference found between Wikipedia members and non-Wikipedia members in the openness trait. Again, this may reflect the fact that contributing to Wikipedia serves mainly egocentric motives.

In other words, even though the end result of Wikipedia is a transparent and largely democratic process, people who edit it may do as much for the group’s overall betterment as for their own ego strokes.

The study also found that women Wikipedia members scored significantly lower on the extroversion scale than non-members, suggesting women Wikipedia members are more introverted than others. The researchers suggested that perhaps women use the Internet more as a compensative tool than men.

These results are fairly interesting, but come from a fairly small study and would have to be confirmed by future research.

Reference:

Amichai–Hamburger, Y., Lamdan, N., Madiel, R., & Hayat, T. (2008). Personality Characteristics of Wikipedia Members. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 11(6).