Study: Facebook decreases loneliness
Briana Sanchez / Arizona Daily Wildcat
On January 11, 2013, Dr. Mehl discusses the outcome of an experiment he conducted throug Facebook and the conclusion that internet connection makes people feel less lonely.
In a recent study, a UA professor defended the benefits of Facebook and suggested that updating one’s status more often can reduce the feeling of loneliness.
Matthias Mehl, an associate professor of psychology, published the study, “Does Posting Facebook Status Updates Increase or Decrease Loneliness?: An Online Social Networking Experiment” on Dec. 20, 2012 and examined 102 undergraduate students at UA. The experiment monitored the participants’ Facebook profiles for one week. Half of the students were asked to post more status updates than they normally would, the other half were used as a control group and were not instructed to change anything.
“We had seen that the topic of Facebook, whether it was good for you or bad for you, has been a really long debated question. But no one had ever done an experiment, a true experiment, and that’s the only way to answer the question,” Mehl said.
The experiment was carried out entirely online, where the subjects were directed to temporarily friend a “Research Profile”. This “Research Profile” allowed Mehl and his associate Fenne Deters, of the University of Berlin, to continuously monitor the
participants’ Facebook profiles and confirm that they followed all instructions.
For the researchers to learn if posting status updates caused someone to become more or less lonely, they made every participant complete questionnaires including the University of California, Los Angeles Loneliness scale. This scale measures subjective feelings of loneliness and social isolation using a scale ranging from one to four, as stated in the study’s procedure.
The results of the study showed that the subjects instructed to post more status updates than they normally would reported a decrease in loneliness, which led to the conclusion that status updating can reduce loneliness, and that this decrease in loneliness was due to “the participants feeling more connected to their friends on a daily basis” when updating their status, as specified in the publication.
“I thought it would be the opposite because you have, like, virtual friends instead of actual friends,” said Lisa Foessel, a pre-computer science freshman.
Surprisingly, the researchers also found that the number of responses to status updates had no effect on the subjects’ feelings of loneliness. When asked why this may be Mehl gave two hypotheses: that people “simply assumed that their status updates will be read,” or that people use status updates to ultimately connect with friends in the real world by using them to “skip the small talk at the beginning of a conversation and jump right to more substantive subjects.”
Even with this evidence of the benefits of social networking some UA students are still skeptical.
“It’s kind of weird that you think you’re more popular just by putting yourself out there on a social network,” said Casey White, an ecology and evolutionary biology freshman. “I don’t really see how that makes sense. I think it’s almost the opposite of being popular, truly.”
The scholars said that their research is just the beginning of the science behind social networking, but are confident in its results and the possibilities it has to inspire further studies.
“For me, this is first optimistic evidence that Facebook does not drive us all into loneliness, Facebook can be used in meaningful ways for creating a sense of social integration and connection,” Mehl said.