Psychology of Facebook


Though on Facebook since 2010 I had only a few friends till about an year ago. Being vary of requests from strangers and unfamiliar faces, I had accepted friend requests only from persons I knew well. My presence out there too was occasional. However it did not take me much time to realize that Facebook is not just an online distraction or a platform for arguments but one of the best ways to stay informed. My circle of friends on FB was slowly getting larger though I deliberately kept out acquaintances whom I could foretell by their deportment to be critical of social media for reasons ranging from inadequacy to illiteracy. Strangely enough they too are lurking there in their best of portraits living in the default position with their hyperactive amygdala. Consciously did I open the doors wider and let many in including the “amygdala type” to see how they react to causes, issues and events. Now I have a motley crowd of more than 300 friends from high school mates to senior colleagues, sanghees to kammis, sinners and saints. Me too is there more often updating my status, liking, commenting, posting and sharing.

In spite my best efforts to limit my cyber time, I get sucked in, checking my notifications, replying to comments, entering into arguments or just navigating through links.

Those people there at Facebook know how human mind works. There is specific neuropsychology that explains why so many of us are glued to Facebook. Researchers have discovered trends in the way that we conduct ourselves on Facebook that includes even lurking. Yes… there is psychology behind almost every element of the Facebook experience.

Your hostel mate in college posts old black and white photographs of your group visit to Madurai, Kodaikanal, your soft spoken colleague comes out with strong views on politics, and yet another friend posts funny animal videos. And then there is this cousin who keeps changing her profile picture. What drives people to post what they do? Researchers have concluded that there is definite relation between personality of people and their activities on Facebook.

Some of the findings are as follows:

  • Those high in openness were more likely to post updates about their intellectual interests and to use Facebook as a way to find information, with this information-seeking motive explaining their tendency to post about such topics. This suggests that for those high in openness, their Facebook activities are more about sharing information than socializing.
  • Extroverts were more likely to post about social activities and their everyday lives, and this was due largely to their desire to use Facebook as a tool for communicating with others.
  • Conscientious individuals were more likely to post updates about their children, but analysis showed it wasn’t due to a desire to communicate with friends. The researchers speculated that perhaps it was due to competitiveness over parenting.
  • Narcissists were more likely to post about their achievements, with such postings being motivated by that desire to get validation. Narcissists were also more likely to post about diet and exercise, perhaps as a way of showing how much they value physical attractiveness.

A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that, when people engaged on Facebook—posting, messaging, liking, etc.—their feelings of general social capital increased, while loneliness decreased. It taps the brain’s pleasure centre. Lots of studies have worked toward figuring out what exactly goes on in our brains when we’re participating in social media—specifically, Facebook. A recent one discovered a strong connection between Facebook and the brain’s reward center, called the nucleus accumbens. This area processes rewarding feelings about things like food, sex, money and social acceptance. When we get positive feedback on Facebook, the feeling lights up this part of our brain. The greater the intensity of our Facebook use, the greater the reward.

Another fascinating study recorded physiological reactions like pupil dilation in volunteers as they looked at their Facebook accounts to find that browsing Facebook can evoke what they call flow state, the feeling you get when you’re totally and happily engrossed in a project or new skill. Researchers at the University of Arizona monitored a group of students and tracked their “loneliness levels” while posting Facebook status updates. The study found that when students updated their Facebook statuses more often, they reported lower levels of loneliness. This was true even if no one liked or commented on their posts! Researcher link the drop in loneliness to an increase in feeling more socially connected. On the other hand, when people see their social media statuses are not being engaged with as much as their peers, they can begin to feel like they don’t belong.

What happens when we do not participate. Those with low self-esteem and feeling of insecurity often are afraid to post, comment or share. They have opinions but are too conscious whether they will be bullied, ignored or ridiculed. Some of the studies have shown that Facebook could be making these people more lonely, or isolated, or jealous of all the seemingly-perfect lives we see there. This down side of Facebook seems to emerge mostly when we become passive viewers of Facebook and not a part of the experience.

Here is my final take on Facebook use. If someone can develop an appropriate algorithm where the “likes”, the subjects of links shared, and the nature of comments offered by a person are fed into, it can easily predict his religion, his political leanings, age, gender, and even his IQ levels with fairly good amount of accuracy.




Author: Mathew George

Another slipshod writer under the Sun

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