Category: Facebook

Shy students who use Facebook have better quality friendships

A lot of nonsense is written about the psychological effects of technology, and the Internet in particular. All that time staring at screens must reduce good ol’ fashioned face-to-face contact, the scare-mongers say. A new study takes a different view. Levi Baker and Debra Oswald at Marquette University argue that “computer-mediated communication” could be just what shy people need.

Through sites like Facebook, shy people have more control over how they present themselves, the psychologists argue, and shared interests for discussion are immediately obvious – something shy people can struggle to identify in the flesh. There are also no non-verbal cues to be misinterpreted (past research shows that shy people tend to interpret such cues in an overly negative way). To test whether shy people really do benefit from Internet use, Baker and Oswald surveyed 207 undergrads (138 girls) about their shyness, Facebook usage and the quality of their friendships.

The encouraging finding was that among the more shy students, greater use of Facebook was associated with feeling closer to and more satisfied with friends (although this didn’t apply to face-to-face friends who weren’t on Facebook). Shy students who used Facebook more also had a greater sense of social support. In contrast, for non-shy students, Facebook usage wasn’t associated with perceptions of friendship quality.

‘Our findings refute warnings that computer-mediated communication use might cause shy individuals to become even more socially withdrawn and isolated,’ the researchers said. ‘The current data clearly demonstrate that shy individuals’ use of Facebook is associated with better quality friendships.’

There are two related caveats. Regrettably, as with so much psychology research, this was a cross-sectional study, so it’s unable to make any claims about whether Facebook usage actually causes friendship benefits for shy students. Also, shy students who were heavier users of Facebook reported the same levels of loneliness as their shy peers who didn’t use the service so much. There are many possible reasons for this – for example, despite their superior online-supported friendships, perhaps they still struggled with purely face-to-face relationships. Baker and Oswald are more optimistic. They think that if their data had been collected over time, it would likely have shown that greater Facebook use led to reduced loneliness. ‘Clearly future work needs to identify how, and under what conditions, online communication facilitates off-line communication among shy individuals,’ they said.
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ResearchBlogging.orgBaker, L., and Oswald, D. (2010). Shyness and online social networking services. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27 (7), 873-889 DOI: 10.1177/0265407510375261

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

People judged as likable in the flesh also make good first impressions online

First impressions used to be all about the first time two people came face to face. These days, first impressions are as likely to be formed via perusal of a person’s website or Facebook page, as they are to be formed from actually meeting them. Now a study has compared first impressions gleaned from face-to-face contact and from Facebook pages, and found a close parallel between the two. People judged to be likeable via one medium were also judged as likeable via the other.

Max Weisbuch and colleagues had 37 undergrads spend four minutes chatting with what they thought was another participant but was really one of six confederates working for the researchers. Afterwards the confederates rated how likeable they found the participants to be. The same participants also agreed to reveal their Facebook pages to the researchers. These were shown to another group of ten undergrads who subsequently used the pages to rate the likeability of the participants.

The key finding was that participants rated as more likeable in the flesh also tended to be rated as more likeable based on their Facebook page. Moreover, an analysis of the cues used to make these judgements also showed parallels between the two mediums. Video-recordings of the face-to-face contacts suggested it was participants who were more non-verbally expressive (through facial expression and tone of voice) who tended to be rated as more likeable. Similarly, participants with more expressive Facebook pages – for example having more photos available to view – tended to be judged as more likeable. Finally, participants who were expressive in the flesh also tended to be expressive on their Facebook page.

The researchers said this suggests that personal webpages can contain valid information about their owner’s likability in real life. “Hence, while social interactions and personal webpages have many qualitative differences, considered more broadly, there are important social analogies between the two sources of social information,” they concluded.

Link to related Digest item.
Link to online experiment about faces and personality.
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ResearchBlogging.orgWeisbuch, M., Ivcevic, Z., & Ambady, N. (2009). On being liked on the web and in the “real world”: Consistency in first impressions across personal webpages and spontaneous behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (3), 573-576 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2008.12.009

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