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.

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Belieber, Directioner, Barb, Monster, Selenator, Lovatic: Do you suffer from Celebrity Worship Syndrome?

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Celebrities have played a large role for many years, as we are fascinated by their lavish lifestyles and glamour.  However, with the rise of social networking sites, in particular Twitter, where many celebrities tell their ‘followers’ what they’re up to every second of the day they play a much more worrying role in the lives of their fans.

As religion becomes less popular in the Western world than it was in the past, a new culture of “celebrity worshipping” has taken over.  Only a few minutes needs to be spent on Twitter to see how this new culture has taken over.  Justin Bieber has 22,961,581 Twitter followers at time of writing, but this figure is growing constantly. The Justin Bieber fans (mainly female adolescents) call themselves ‘Beliebers’ a pun on the word ‘believer’, which was once associated with religion.  This is not a concern and just shows a change in language and culture over time, the concern is the emotional health of not only ‘Beliebers’ but all celebrity worshippers.

A new Psychological condition has been recently identified as Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS).  McCutcheon & Houran, (2003) found that fans become progressively more obsessed with a celebrity over time.  It all begins with following the celebrity for “entertainment-social” reasons, such as reading about them in magazines or watching them on television.  This then develops into fans believing they have an “intense-personal” relationship with the celebrity.  This is still not necessarily bad for emotional well-being if managed in a healthy way, but if not controlled positively can lead to an addiction to an idol, derogatively known as ‘stalking’.  Celebrity stalking is not a new problem and can have dire consequences, when looking at Mark David Chapman, the stalker and murderer of John Lennon.

The song “Stan” by Eminem, explores the notion of celebrity worship perfectly, from just a mere admiration to an obvious unhealthy obsession with dire consequences.

It has been found that celebrity worshippers are more likely to have anxiety issues, depression and difficulties maintaining social relationships, than those who do not follow a celebrity.  In severe cases celebrity worshipping can cause people to become neurotic, tense and emotional.  This suggests that celebrity worship is not always good for emotional well-being.  It is important to realise when simply admiring an idol has turned into Celebrity Worship Syndrome and is having a negative effect on a person’s emotions.   The admiration has turned into an obsession when the desire to know the latest information about an idol interrupts day-to-day life, such as affecting work or relationships.  Some worshippers report feeling particularly emotional when they cannot get hold of any news on the celebrity.  Others feel that if their idol does not reply to any of their messages it is a personal attack, which can cause depressive feelings.

The majority of celebrity-worshippers are female adolescents.  During puberty it is common for adolescents to identify with a role model in order to find their own identity (Lin & Lin, 2007) and it is common for this role model to be a celebrity.  However, adolescence is often a fragile period of life and celebrity worship can often become intense.  This has an effect on school-work as well as peer relationships.  Findings by Maltby, Giles, Barber and McCutcheon, (2005) suggest that celebrity worship during the ages of 14-16 years can cause eating disorders, after desiring the idols looks and figure (which is often faked by photoshop).  However, these issues are normally resolved by adulthood (ages 17-20).  Cheng, 2007 also found that those associated with a fan-group reported lower levels of self-esteem than those not part of a fan-group.

Here are just some posts I have found on Twitter after a few minutes of searching.  Read these and make your own mind up whether you think we have a dangerous epidemic with the idolisation of celebrities or if it is just all harmless teenage crushes.  I’d love to hear your comments.

To Nicki Minaj: “I didnt wanna go to sleep until i knew u landed safely … now i can finally rest”

About Justin Bieber: “Feels weird saying, “Justin Bieber.” I feel I know him on a more personal level & can call him, “Justin.”

About Selena Gomez: “Selena makes us have second family, Selenator! Selena Changed Our Life and we know it!”