Facebook Has Physical And Mental Effects
January 15, 2013

Social Networks Lessen Self-control: Study

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

New research finds that social network users tend to have inflated self-esteem due to the number of "likes" and other positive comments received from close friends.

This, in turn, can reduce self-control both on and offline, said the researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School.

Social network users focused on close friends also report having higher body-mass indexes and higher levels of credit-card debt, the researchers said.

"To our knowledge, this is the first research to show that using online social networks can affect self-control," said study co-author Andrew Stephen, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh.

"We have demonstrated that using today's most popular social network, Facebook, may have a detrimental effect on people's self-control."

The report includes the results of five separate studies conducted with more than 1,000 U.S. Facebook users.

In the initial study, participants completed surveys about how closely they were connected to friends on Facebook. The participants were then split into two groups: one that wrote about the experience of browsing Facebook, and another that actually browsed Facebook.

Both groups then completed a self-esteem survey.

Regardless of whether the participants wrote about Facebook browsing or actually browsed the site, the participants with weak ties to Facebook friends did not experience an increase in self-esteem, but those with strong ties to friends reported an enhanced sense of self-esteem.

Stephen and co-author Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, conducted a second study that evaluated why Facebook users with strong ties to friends were more likely to experience an increase in self-esteem.

Study participants were prompted to browse Facebook for five minutes, with some instructed to pay attention to the status updates and other information people were sharing with them. The remaining participants were directed to concentrate on information they were sharing.

The researchers found that browsing Facebook only increased participants' self-esteem when they were focused on the information they were presenting to others.

"We find that people experience greater self-esteem when they focus on the image they are presenting to strong ties in their social networks," said Wilcox.

"This suggests that even though people are sharing the same positive information with strong ties and weak ties on social networks, they feel better about themselves when the information is received by strong ties than by weak ties."

In the third and fourth study, the researchers used cookies, granola bars and word puzzles to establish a link between self-esteem and self-control.

Participants in the third study were instructed to check Facebook or read news articles on CNN.com, then select between eating a granola bar or a chocolate-chip cookie. Those who had browsed Facebook were more likely to choose the cookie, the researchers reported.

Participants in the fourth study were given anagram word puzzles to solve after either checking Facebook or reading TMZ.com, a celebrity news and gossip website. The Facebook browsers were more likely to give up on the puzzles.

The fifth investigation, an online field study, examined the relationship between online social network use and offline behaviors associated with poor self-control.

Participants completed a survey that questioned their height, weight, number of credit cards, amount of debt, and how many friends they have offline, among other things.

"The results suggest that greater social network use is associated with a higher body-mass index, increased binge eating, a lower credit score, and higher levels of credit-card debt for individuals with strong ties to their social network," the researchers wrote in their report.

Stephen and Wilcox said the five studies have implications for policy makers because self-control is an important mechanism for maintaining social order and well-being.

"It would be worthwhile for researchers and policy makers to further explore social network use in order to better understand which consumers may be particularly vulnerable to suffering negative psychological or social consequences," they wrote in their report.

Stephen and Wilcox said they are contemplating a future inquiry into social networks and behavior that would address the long-term effects of Facebook on users.

"It would be interesting," they wrote, "to explore the persistence of the effect of browsing Facebook over time."

The current report, entitled “Are Close Friends the Enemy? Online Social Networks, Self-Esteem, and Self-Control," was published online in November, and is scheduled for publication in the June 2013 print edition of the Journal of Consumer Research.