Friday, 3 December 2010

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refute warnings that computer-mediated communication use might cause shy individuals to become even more socially withdrawn and isolated,' the researchers said.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.

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.


skm said...

The study is interesting, but I need some help with reading comprehension.

I thought this part, "(although this didn't apply to face-to-face friends who weren't on Facebook)" implied that the face-to-face interactions with friends who *are* on facebook were improved. (Perhaps the shy students were able to "practice" having conversations online that also carried over in to conversations in person)

But am I making a false assumption based on that? I feel I might due to the later comment, "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."

I could construe that to mean that the face-to-face interactions with friends who are also on facebook were not affected in any detectable way.

Anonymous said...

Methinks the title is a little misleading?

Anonymous said...

It may be that people who interact on Facebook have a different definition as to what constitutes a friend.

Anonymous said...

Friendship - a person known well to another and regarded with liking, affection, and loyalty; This is what I see friendship as being. Many years ago before we had computers we took to the good old pen and paper and had pen pales who we regularly wrote to, for many reasons, loneliness, love, remoteness & to keep old face to face friendships going. I dont believe that facebook usage allows better quality friendships as online friendships or in fact any friendships can be built on false foundations, but online friendships are less confrontational than face to face & it is still regarded as a form of communication & over the years I have learned to communicate in a whole different way and as I tend to be more of the shy type I do feel it has helped me to broarden my horizons, BUT my concern is that shy people could be more vulnerable & easily lead astray with regards to their emotional state causing them to end up experiencing more frequent let downs as its very easy to strike up friendships on line. Shy people could experience more let downs than say someone that experiences physical contact on a regular basis with people they meet. Meeting people and developing friendships on a face to face basis gives us an opportunity to observe and experience in real time, if your shy, over time if your experiences are successful a shy person should be able to desensitise and communication becomes easier. Although online friendships for shy people could be a temporary fix in combatting loneliness, to me it doesnt help long term. I know because I experience shyness in my life daily & for me being online only helps beat the loneliness to a degree, human beings all need some form of face to face contact as its proven that when we do we create certain chemicals that the body needs. U dont get this from sitting at a computer u get it from smell, touch, sight, taste and hearing. How can u get this from online friendship unless it developes into something physical.

Shim Marom said...

I suspect this article can also be added to the list of nonsense articles dealing with the psychological effects of technology.

The article lacks any credible definition of what quality friendship is all about. It suggests that shy people indicated that the quality of their friendship has increased, but at the same time this increased quality did not apply to face-to-face with people not on facebook.

But most interestingly, the conclusion of the article makes the admission that "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". So its not very conclusive as you might think from reading the earlier claims.

The bottom line is that there's been ample research suggesting that over reliance on technology to communicate affects people's ability to relate to face-to-face communication. This has been fairly well covered and seems pretty conclusive. What the above demonstrates, to some degree, that in certain circumstances the use of technology could be useful for some section of society, but this is all, and the negative impact of technology on the quality of people's relationships cannot be dismissed so easily.

Anonymous said...

undergrads = girls? women, perhaps

Anonymous said...

Too early to get any useful information out of it. Try asking in 15 years when all their face-to-face friends are married with kids and they're still wasting their time on facebook etc. Online company might fill a small part of an empty void, but it gives you no training or experience for handling the physical world.

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