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The Psychology behind Facebook Use: Guest Post

Hi there,
My name is Sam Muir and I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to make a guest contribution here on Sarah’s blog!

Like Sarah, I undertook an Honours year at university, but in a very different field in psychology. I also had to complete a thesis and what started out as an exciting and ambitious project quickly turned into a painstakingly long, dreary, and monotonous exercise, but one I look back on with great pride.

I’ve always been fascinated by human behaviour, particularly the ways in which we are increasingly interacting with one another through online social media (such as blogs!). My research focussed on Facebook and aimed to determine the primary motives for using Facebook as well as exploring issues concerning privacy settings and loneliness. Some basic summary statistics for you, participants in the study had an average of 431 Facebook friends and spent, on average, 127 minutes a day on Facebook.

Using a variety of statistical analyses (factor analyses, correlational analyses, and multiple regression) I found that people were motivated to use Facebook for primarily two reasons; communication and entertainment. These two motives have been found over and over again to be the most significant motives for social networking and internet use in general.

The results of the study determined that less than 5% of participants had left their privacy setting on the default option of “public”, while only 3% were “unsure” what their privacy setting was. Therefore, it appears as though users are becoming increasingly aware of privacy issues on social network sites.

However, under a separate privacy setting (“Who can search for my profile”) over a third of participants (38.2%) indicated that this option was left on the default setting of “everyone” (the least strictest privacy setting). This inconsistency in privacy settings may be a reflection of the misconceptions that exist amongst Facebook users regarding their privacy settings. If you haven’t changed your privacy settings from the default I strongly recommend you do as you are exposing yourself to anyone and everyone with access to the internet!

Social loneliness (a perceived lack of belonging/lack of friends) was found to be a significant predictor of Facebook use. Specifically, the more an individual uses Facebook, the less socially lonely they feel. This is unsurprising given that one of the primary reasons individuals use Facebook is to communicate with others and message other people. Thus, greater Facebook use may lead to increases in well-being! However, further research is needed to investigate the threshold of such a claim.

Emotional loneliness (a lack of intimate relationships/romantic partner) was found to have a significant relationship with impression management. I find impression management to be an intriguing concept. For those unfamiliar with the term, impression management refers to any technique that individuals use, both consciously and unconsciously, to influence the impression that others have of them. The phenomenon of online impression management is still being understood with researchers yet to fully understand how it is influencing our use of social media.

The results of my study revealed that emotionally lonely individuals tend to use Facebook more for impression management purposes. In other words, emotionally lonely users may be more strategic about what information, photos, statuses, etc., they share on their Facebook profile in order to influence the way they are perceived by others. Unfortunately greater exploration of this area was beyond the scope of my study but it would definitely be an area I would consider investigating in the near future.

Speaking of the future, I am about to embark on my postgraduate studies in applied statistics at Swinburne University in Melbourne in the hope of one day becoming an academic. If anyone would like to read the full copy of my thesis or if you have any questions regarding psychology, social media studies, or statistics, you can contact me on sammy_muir@hotmail.com. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Finally, a big thank you to Sarah for inviting me to make this contribution to her blog. Despite the two of us studying two very different fields, one can never have enough knowledge and considering how broad the area of psychology is, our paths may even cross in the academic arena some day 

Sam Muir (B. A.)
Supervisor: Associate Professor Ann Knowles
Swinburne University of Technology, Victoria, Australia.