The Psychology of Facebook

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After reading a recent article from BPS Research Digest (written by Christian Jarrett) on a paper by Bryant & Marmo (2012) about the ‘Unwritten Rules of Facebook’, I started to think about how important Facebook (and other social networking sites) have become in our everyday lives.

The paper highlighted how just as we have unwritten social norms in our everyday lives, we have also created social norms for Facebook in order to censor the posts we write and to ensure respect between everyone.  It is interesting how we have created a virtual set of norms and there are consequences when these norms are not followed.  Groups of people, known as ‘trolls’, enter social networking sites to purposefully act against the virtual norms, which can cause great uproar amongst users of the site.  A breakdown of the norms causes an aura of upset and anger and generally reaches large audiences, with sometimes even the media becoming involved .  Although the Bryant & Marmo paper was based upon Facebook, I think it would be fascinating to also explore Twitter users, as Twitter is much more anonymous and the deindividuation phenomenon creates much looser social norms and a varied view on what is acceptable  and what is not.

Social networking has become a huge influential part of our lives and has such an impact on our psychological state that I feel it will not be long before there will be a branch of Psychology specifically studying technology or the internet.  One way in which social networks can effect our psychological wellbeing is through self-esteem.  This article by Lauren Suval states how it has been found by the University of Gothenburg (2012) that Facebook can damage our self-esteem, as many Facebook users post positive statuses about how wonderful their lives are which we then compare to our own lives.  It has also been found by Gonzales & Hancock (2011) that Facebook can boost self-esteem by the ability to express yourself  to a large audience and gain positive feedback through likes and comments. However, whether we realise it or not Facebook is more than just a communicative tool.

internet addictionMore dangerously is the new psychological disorder of Facebook addiction.  An interesting infographic (well worth a look) by Best Masters in Psychology shows how Facebook and the internet effects our brain.  The infographic claims that receiving a notification on Facebook releases a hormone called dopamine, which makes us happy and relaxed.  Dopamine is also HIGHLY addictive.  Excessive use of the internet changes our brain structures so that the areas we need for internet use become bigger, but areas we do not need such as speech and memory become smaller.  Apparently Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) has become a recognised disorder in Korea, China and Taiwan and the USA is expected to also recognise it as a disorder this year, when it will be added to the latest DSM manual.  The main concern is the treatment of such an addiction, as unlike smoking or gambling, it will be impossible to cut it out completely as it simply is needed in many areas of life.

However, this is a particularly pessimistic look at Facebook.  I mean individual differences obviously come to play here, as not all Facebook users become addicted or take a hit to their self-esteem.  As with everything it is important to monitor your psychological wellbeing and if you find Facebook may be affecting you, it may be best to cut down on your time online, it is good to go by the motto: everything in moderation.

I find this topic fascinating and have been toying with the idea of exploring it further in my dissertation which I shall be starting next year.  I would love to start a discussion on the effect of Facebook on our Psychological and emotional wellbeing.
Do you think Facebook (and other social networks) have a positive or negative impact on our health?

If you found this post interesting you may also want to take a look at my post on Social Networking and Celebrity Worship Syndrome.