What your laptop stickers say about you 

Focal point: a laptop with over a dozen stickers. A student works in the background.

Researchers set out to determine if laptop stickers could provide some insight into students’ personalities. Photo by Dylan Taylor.

People can reliably pick up on aspects of a person’s personality solely based on the stickers of their laptops, according to a recent study.

It's clear students use laptops as social billboards, said Gregory Webster, a social psychologist at the University of Florida. The concept made him and then-UF graduate students Jessica T. Campbell and Imani N. Turner wonder if those stickers could provide some insight into students' personalities.

"I think people put some thought into the stickers they choose to display," Webster said. "It's just another aspect that people use to advertise themselves to others."

To determine if they were right about the stickers, researchers took an estimated 140 pictures of UF student laptops (with their permission). The pictures included computers with three or more stickers. They had the owners of the laptops fill out a personality questionnaire about their own personality traits, including extraversion and openness to new experiences. Then, they had eight raters review the pictures and guess the person’s personality traits just with the photos.

"What we found was — above chance levels — people could reliably detect the other person's extraversion and, also, their openness to new experiences based solely on viewing their laptop stickers," Webster said.

The findings fit into a larger field of personality perception research that focuses on how people gauge a person’s personality based on small slices of information and how first impressions are formed. They also align with similar studies that found people can glean accurate personality cues from dorm room or office decorations.

However, this latest study can only generalize college-aged students, since they are most likely to have stickers on their laptops. The study did not explore what laptop stickers say about people in older age groups. Additionally, the study cannot tell us what it says about those who choose to display nothing.

"We don’t know what the people with no stickers are trying to project or not project," Webster said. "It may be that they want to remain a mystery."

The study, "Open laptops, open minds: Consensus and accuracy in big five personality perception from laptop stickers," was recently published in the Journal of Research in Personality. A free preprint can be found here.

Cynthia Roldán Hernández March 2, 2022