Category: Facebook

Can’t Get Over Your Ex? Blame The Algorithm

By Emily Reynolds

Breaking up is never easy, particularly when you’re confronted with memories of happier times. A smell, an old photograph, a note somebody left you — weeks or even months after a break-up and you can still be reminded of your ex-partner, whether you like it or not.

On social media, this can be even worse. If you’re still friends with your ex, you’re likely to still see their posts on your feed; if you’re not, you can still rub salt into the wound by checking their profile anyway. ‘On this Day’ features are also notoriously bad for bringing up unhappy memories at the worst possible time.

According to a new study published in Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, we also see our exes so much because of the so-called “social periphery” — the networks of people we know tangentially through our ex-partners. So why not design an algorithm that causes us less pain? The new work suggests that this could be the answer to our online break-up woes.

Continue reading “Can’t Get Over Your Ex? Blame The Algorithm”

When We Think Our Online Friends Eat Healthy Foods, We Also Eat Better

By Emily Reynolds

Scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, it can be easy to feel drawn in by the people you follow. Whether it’s the brands they’re buying, the things they’re doing or what they’re wearing, it’s not uncommon to want to follow suit — they’re called “influencers” for a reason, after all.

This isn’t only true of those who are paid to influence, however: those we know in “real life” and follow on social media can also impact the decisions we make. In a new study published in Appetite, Lily Hawkins and colleagues at Aston University find that what we think our online friends are eating can influence how healthy (or not) our own diets are. Continue reading “When We Think Our Online Friends Eat Healthy Foods, We Also Eat Better”

Public Wouldn’t Trust Companies To Scan Social Media Posts For Signs Of Depression, Survey Finds

Woman Typing Phone Message On Social Network At NightBy guest blogger Jack Barton

Since the exposure of Cambridge Analytica in 2018 it is no longer surprising that tech giants are using our information in ways we may not be explicitly aware of. Companies such as Facebook are already using computer algorithms to identify individuals expressing thoughts of suicide and provide targeted support, such as displaying information about mental health services or even contacting first responders.

However, the visibility of these features is poor at best — and it remains unclear if the public even wants them in the first place. Now a study in JMIR Mental Health has asked whether the general public would be happy for tech companies to use their social media posts to look for signs of depression. The study found that although the public sees the benefit of using algorithms to identify at-risk individuals, privacy concerns still surround the use of this technology.

Continue reading “Public Wouldn’t Trust Companies To Scan Social Media Posts For Signs Of Depression, Survey Finds”

Most People Who Share “Fake News” Do Care About The Accuracy Of News Items — They’re Just Distracted

Working that social networkingBy Emma Young

Is it really believable that Hillary Clinton operated a child sex ring out of a pizza shop — or that Donald Trump was prepared to deport his wife, Melania, after a fight at the White House? Though both these headlines seem obviously false, they were shared millions of times on social media.

The sharing of misinformation — including such blatantly false “fake news” — is of course a serious problem. According to a popular interpretation of why it happens, when deciding what to share, social media users don’t care if a “news” item is true or not, so long as it furthers their own agenda: that is, we are in a “post-truth” era. One recent study suggested, for example, that knowing something is false has little impact on the likelihood of sharing. However, a new paper by a team of researchers from MIT and the University of Regina in Canada further challenges that bleak view.

The studies reported in the paper, available as a preprint on PsyArXiv, suggest that in fact, social media users do care whether an item is accurate or not — they just get distracted by other motives (such as wanting to secure new followers or likes) when deciding what to share. As part of their study, the researchers also showed that a simple intervention that targeted a group of oblivious Twitter users increased the quality of the news that they shared. “Our results translate directly into a scalable anti-misinformation intervention that is easily implementable by social media platforms,” they write.

Continue reading “Most People Who Share “Fake News” Do Care About The Accuracy Of News Items — They’re Just Distracted”

Abstaining From Social Media Doesn’t Improve Well-Being, Experimental Study Finds

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By Matthew Warren

From digital detoxes to the recent Silicon Valley fad of “dopamine fasting”, it seems more fashionable than ever to attempt to abstain from consuming digital media. Underlying all of these trends is the assumption that using digital devices — and being on social media in particular — is somehow unhealthy, and that if we abstain, we might become happier, more fulfilled people.

But is there any truth to this belief? When it comes to social media, at least, a new paper in Media Psychology suggests not.  In one of the few experimental studies in the field, researchers have found that quitting social media for up to four weeks does nothing to improve our well-being or quality of life.

Continue reading “Abstaining From Social Media Doesn’t Improve Well-Being, Experimental Study Finds”

Taking a mere five-day break from Facebook will lower your physiological stress levels, researchers claim

GettyImages-903669474.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Does the prospect of taking a “Facebook holiday” fill you with dread as you picture a life of social isolation, or does it sound like an appealing and refreshing chance to change priorities?

A new paper in the Journal of Social Psychology has investigated the psychological effects of taking time off from using Facebook. Given that Facebook helps keep us connected but can also expose us to many social stressors, like envy and gossip, the researchers, led by Eric Vanman at the University of Queensland, expected to find a Facebook break would be associated with a drop in life-satisfaction, but also a reduction in stress levels. Their findings are largely in line with their predictions “[and] consistent with the general ambivalent feelings that may typify most active users about Facebook”. However, the study also features ambiguities and limitations that may leave sceptical readers unconvinced.

Continue reading “Taking a mere five-day break from Facebook will lower your physiological stress levels, researchers claim”

Study shows how easy and effective it is for Facebook ads to target your personality

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Examples of ads used in the study: (A) targeted at high and low extraversion users, (B) at high and low openness users. via Matz et al, 2017 / Getty Images

By Christian Jarrett

Last week, Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker admitted his concerns that, by focusing on social validation, Facebook was designed to exploit “a vulnerability in human psychology”. Added to this, and amidst the current furore around fake news, imagine if adverts on Facebook could be adapted to target your personality, significantly increasing the odds that people like you will click on the ads and then buy the associated products or vote differently in an election. A timely study in PNAS shows just how easy and effective it is to target web users according to their personality, a technique that the researchers call “psychological persuasion”.

Continue reading “Study shows how easy and effective it is for Facebook ads to target your personality”

How social anxiety manifests on Facebook

For many shy people, online social networking sites have an obvious appeal – a way to socialise without the unpredictable immediacy of a face-to-face encounter. However, a new study finds that people who are socially anxious betray their awkwardness on Facebook, much as they do in the offline world. The researchers Aaron Weidman and Cheri Levinson said their findings could hint at ways for socially anxious people to conceal their nervousness and attract more online friends.

Seventy-seven students (average age 19; 77 per cent of them female) completed a measure of social anxiety. High scores were given to those who agreed with statements like “I have difficulty talking with other people” and “I am tense mixing in a group”. Before the students left the psych lab, the researchers took screen grabs of their Facebook pages.

Several aspects of the students’ Facebook pages correlated with their social anxiety scores. Unsurprisingly perhaps, those with fewer Facebook friends had higher social anxiety scores, so too did those who showed their relationship status as “single” (versus married or status not shown) and those whose page did not show a status update or quote (a sign of self-disclosure). These markers largely reflect offline signs of social anxiety – it’s well established for example that people who are socially anxious share less information and tell fewer stories in conversation.

So, socially anxious people betray signs of their personalities on their Facebook pages, but would a stranger looking at their page pick up on these cues? Next, the researchers showed the students’ Facebook pages to six other students and asked them to rate the social anxiety of the owners of the pages (if the observing students recognised any of the people in the Facebook pages, they didn’t rate those pages).

There was a modest correlation between the observers’ ratings of the Facebook owners’ social anxiety and the owners’ actual (self-reported) social anxiety scores. The observers picked up on some cues correctly, including lack of Facebook friends. But other cues they misread. Observers tended to rate Facebook pages with fewer photos and fewer people in the profile photo as more socially anxious, even though neither of these factors actually correlated with the owners’ social anxiety scores. Observers also failed to pick up on the significance of a lack of self-disclosure or the owners’ relationship status.

Unfortunately, some of the tell-tale signs of social anxiety can lead shy people to appear awkward and to make a negative impression on people they meet – the very outcome that they fear. These new results suggest the same problem may apply on Facebook, but they also point at a way to help by addressing the signs that strangers will read as evidence of social awkwardness.

The researchers said people high in social anxiety “may benefit from interventions aimed at forcing them to befriend more individuals on Facebook, post more photos of themselves, and to choose a profile picture that depicts them in the presence of others, all of which might cause observers to view [them] more positively as potential friends.”

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Weidman, A., & Levinson, C. (2015). I’m still socially anxious online: Offline relationship impairment characterizing social anxiety manifests and is accurately perceived in online social networking profiles Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 12-19 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.12.045

further reading
The Psychology of Facebook, Digested

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

The psychology of Facebook, digested

By Christian Jarrett

With over a billion users, Facebook is changing the social life of our species. Cultural commentators ponder the effects. Is it bringing us together or tearing us apart? Psychologists have responded too – Google Scholar lists more than 27,000 references with Facebook in the title. Common topics for study are links between Facebook use and personality, and whether the network alleviates or fosters loneliness. The torrent of new data is overwhelming and much of it appears contradictory. Here is the psychology of Facebook, digested:

Who uses Facebook?

Extraverts have more friends on FB
but shy people probably use it more

According to a survey of over a thousand people, “females, younger people, and those not currently in a committed relationship were the most active Facebook users“. Regarding personality, a study of over 1000 Australians reported that “[FB] users tend to be more extraverted and narcissistic, but less conscientious and socially lonely, than nonusers“. A study of the actual FB use of over a hundred students found that personality was a more important factor than gender and FB experience, with high scorers in neuroticism spending more time on FB. Meanwhile, extraverts were found to have more friends on the network than introverts (“the 10 per cent of our respondents scoring the highest in extraversion had, on average, 484 more friends than the 10 per cent scoring the lowest in extraversion”).

Other findings add to the picture, for example: greater shyness has also been linked with more FB use. Similarly, a study from 2013 found that anxiousness (as well as alcohol and marijuana use) predicted more emotional attachment to Facebook.

There’s also evidence that people use FB to connect with others with specialist interests, such as diabetes patients sharing information and experiences, and that people with autism particularly enjoy interacting via FB and other online networks.

Why do some people use Twitter and others Facebook?

High scorers in “need for cognition” prefer Twitter

Apparently most people use Facebook “to get instant communication and connection with their friends” (who knew?), but why use FB rather than Twitter? A 2014 paper suggested narcissism again is relevant, but that its influence depends on a person’s age: student narcissists prefer Twitter, while more mature narcissists prefer FB. Other research has uncovered intriguing links between personality and reasons for using FB. People who said they used FB as an informational tool (rather than socialising) tended to score higher on neuroticism, sociability, extraversion and openness, but lower on conscientiousness and “need for cognition”. The researchers speculated that using FB to seek and share information could be some people’s way to avoid more cognitively demanding sources such as journal articles and newspaper reports. The same study also found that higher scorers in sociability, neuroticism and extraversion preferred FB, while people who scored higher in “need for cognition” preferred Twitter.

What do we give away about ourselves on Facebook?

FB seems like the perfect way to present an idealised version of yourself to the world. However an analysis of the profiles of over 200 people in Germany and the US found that they reflected their actual personalities, not their ideal selves. Consistent with this, another study found that people who are rated as more likeable in the flesh also tend to be rated as more likeable based on their Facebook page. The things you choose to “like” on FB are also revealing. Remarkably, a study out last week found that your “likes” can be analysed by a computer programme to produce a more accurate profile of your personality than the profiles produced by your friends and relatives.

If our FB profiles expose our true selves, this raises obvious privacy issues. A study in 2013 warned that employers often trawl candidates’ FB pages, and that they view photos of drinking and partying as “red flags”, presumably seeing them as a sign of low conscientiousness (in fact the study found photos like these were linked with high extraversion, not with low conscientiousness).

Other researchers have looked specifically at how personality is related to the kind of content people post on FB. A 2014 study reported that “higher degrees of narcissism led to deeper self-disclosures and more self-promotional content within these messages. [And] Users with higher need to belong disclosed more intimate information“. Another study last year also reported that lonelier people disclose more private information, but fewer opinions.

You might also want to consider the friends you keep on FB – research suggests that their attractiveness (good-lookers give your rep a boost), and the statements they make about you on your wall, affect the way your own profile is perceived. Consider too how many friends you have – somewhat paradoxically, research finds that having an overabundance of friends leads to negative perceptions of your profile.

Finally, we heard about employers frowning on partying photos, but what else do you give away in your FB profile picture? It could reveal your cultural background according to a 2012 study that showed people from Taiwan were more likely to have a zoomed-out picture in which they were seen against a background context, while US users were more likely to have a close-up picture in which their face filled up more of the frame. Your FB pic might also say something about your current romantic relationship. When people feel more insecure about their partner’s feelings, they make their relationship more visible in their pics.

In case you’re wondering, yes, people who post more selfies probably are more narcissistic.

Is Facebook making us lonely and sad?

This is the crunch question that has probably attracted the most newspaper column inches (and books). A 2012 study took an experimental approach. One group were asked to post more updates than usual for one week – this led them to feel less lonely and more connected to their friends. Similarly, a survey of over a thousand FB users found links between use of the network and greater feelings of belonging and confidence in keeping up with friends, especially for people with low self-esteem. Another study from 2010 found that shy students who use FB feel closer to their friends (on FB) and have a greater sense of social support. A similar story is told by a 2013 paper that said feelings of FB connectedness were associated with “with lower depression and anxiety and greater satisfaction with life” and that Facebook “may act as a separate social medium ….  with a range of positive psychological outcomes.” This recent report also suggested the site can help revive old relationships.

Yet there’s also evidence for the negative influence of FB. A 2013 study texted people through the day, to see how they felt before and after using FB. “The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; [and] the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time,” the researchers said.

Other findings are more nuanced. This study from 2010 (not specifically focused on FB) found that using the internet to connect with existing friends was associated with less loneliness, but using it to connect with strangers (i.e. people only known online) was associated with more loneliness. This survey of adults with autism found that greater use of online social networking (including FB) was associated with having more close friendships, but only offline relationships were linked with feeling less lonely.

Facebook could also be fuelling envy. In 2012 researchers found that people who’d spent more time on FB felt that other people were happier, and that life was less fair. Similarly, a study of hundreds of undergrads found that more time on FB went hand in hand with more feelings of jealousy. And a paper from last year concluded that “people feel depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook because they feel badly when comparing themselves to others.” However, this new report (on general online social networking, not just FB) found that heavy users are not more stressed than average, but are more aware of other people’s stress.

Is Facebook harming students’ academic work?

This is another live issue among newspaper columnists and other social commentators. An analysis of the grades and FB use of nearly 4000 US students found that the more they used the network to socialise, the poorer their grades tended to be (of course, there could be a separate causal factor(s) underlying this association). But not all FB use is the same – the study found that using the site to collect and share information was actually associated with better grades. This survey of over 200 students also found that heavier users of FB tend to have lower academic grades, but note again that this doesn’t prove a causal link. Yet another study, this one from the University of Chicago, which included more convincing longitudinal data, found no evidence for a link between FB use and poorer grades; if anything there were signs of the opposite pattern. Still more positive evidence for FB came from a recent report that suggested FB – along with other social networking tools – could have cognitive benefits for elderly people.

And finally, some miscellaneous findings

That was our digest of the psychology of Facebook – please tell all your friends, on and off Facebook! Oh, and don’t forget to visit the Research Digest Facebook page.
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Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest.

Facebook mood manipulation study – the outcry and counter reaction (link feast special)

There’s been an outcry after Facebook manipulated the news feeds of nearly 700,000 its users, as part of a newly published investigation into online emotional contagion. Here we bring you a handy round-up of some of the ensuing commentary and reaction.

The Furore
The Psychologist magazine brings us up to speed with the main findings and fallout from the affair (Wired’s detailed coverage is also good).

The “Apology
Lead author on the paper, in-house Facebook researcher Adam Kramer took to Facebook on June 29 to apologise. “…our goal was never to upset anyone,” he writes. Kramer’s co-authors were researchers at Cornell University.

The Statement
Cornell University claim that their researchers analysed data collected by Facebook, and had no part in data collection themselves. “Cornell University’s Institutional Review Board concluded that he [co-author Professor Jeffrey Hancock] was not directly engaged in human research and that no review by the Cornell Human Research Protection Program was required.

The Evasion
Princeton University psychology Susan Fiske – editor at PNAS where the research was published – told Guardian Blogger Chris Chambers that she didn’t have time to answer all his questions about the study. Retorts Chambers: “In what version of 2014 is it acceptable for journals, universities and scientists to offer weasel words and obfuscation in response to simple questions about research ethics?”

The Bad Research Methods
John Grohol at World of Psychology pointed out that the text analysis used in the research was flawed. For example, “I am not having a great day” and “I am not happy” would be rated positive because of the presence of the words “great” and “happy”.

The Outcry
Over at Znet, tech blogger Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols said he knew all Facebook users were guinea pigs, but not that they were lab rats. “Stop it, Facebook. Stop it now. And, never, ever do anything like this again.”

The Outcry II
NPR blogger Linda Holmes: “I speak here as a Facebook user and straight from the heart: It’s gross. It’s gross.”

The Counter Reaction
“Facebook users more or less get what they should expect — and what they deserve, given that they use Facebook’s service for free”. This the opinion of California Polytechnic ethicist Patrick Lin, as paraphrased by the Wall Street Journal.

The Counter Reaction II
Calm down, says Alice Park at Time, “what Facebook did was scientifically acceptable, ethically allowable and, let’s face it, probably among the more innocuous ways that you’re being manipulated in nearly every aspect of your life.” (similar sentiments from Forbes technology writer & Tal Yarkoni at New Scientist).

The Solution?
“Until Facebook changes its practices,” says Selena Larson at ReadWrite.com “there’s only one way to assuredly remove yourself as a candidate for a scientific experiment: Delete your Facebook account.”

Update 2 July:

Update 4 July:

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Post compiled by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.