February 11th, 2015
Bingo, another study on Facebook behavior. This time it is about various personalities and romance on Facebook. Is the social network really that interesting? Is it not just another, slightly different, form of every day communication?
Researcher Jesse Fox tells us why she thinks Facebook is indeed something very different. She just published her study Social Networking Sites in Romantic Relationships: Attachment, Uncertainty, and Partner Surveillance on Facebook that found that attachment style predicts Interpersonal Electronic Surveillance (IES) of a partner. People with a preoccupied or fearful attachment style reported electronically surveilling their partner the most.
Why another study about Facebook? Is online social behavior not roughly the same as offline social behavior?
I argue that Facebook is qualitatively different than face-to-face communication because of the amount and type of information it provides and the depersonalized way in which this information is shared. For example, if I make a comment to a friend face-to-face, normally this is not going to be visible to my entire social network. If I post it on her Facebook timeline, however, her entire social network can see it. In romantic relationships in the U.S., normally people do not bear permanent markers of their relationship status until they wear rings at the engagement/marriage/civil union stage. On Facebook, however, many people choose to advertise that information by posting their relationship status.
Did your results show this difference?
Yes. This study demonstrated that some types of people spend considerable amounts of time consuming the information they can gather about their partner on Facebook. It is important to note that offline, there is no practical way a person could get that much information about their partner, because this information must come from a multitude of sources. Facebook reveals which media partners are consuming, the interpersonal or group conversations they are having, old friendships they maintain and new friendships they are making, historical content about previous relationships and locations they are visiting. Even if you are trying to keep your life private on Facebook, you can’t control what other people are going to post about you. Thus, a highly integrated social networking site like Facebook provides far more relational information than one would ever have access to offline.
You found that fearfull and preoccupied individuals report more Intepersonal Electronic Surveillance. What would you advise those people to do on Facebook during a romantic relationship?
I would advise most individuals (regardless of attachment style) to spend less time on Facebook. I would also advise couples to have explicit discussions about Facebook–what is appropriate to post about the relationship and how or if you will use Facebook to communicate. It is also important to discuss in advance how you will discuss upsetting information on Facebook so that you are prepared to handle it in a calm and rational manner.
Some couples agree not to go “Facebook official,” and so their statuses will read “In a Relationship” without linking to the other person. Some couples hide their relationship statuses entirely. I’ve even had a couple of cases where they agree to not friend each other on Facebook. Each couple should determine what works best for both of them and respect each other’s wishes. If you can’t reach a compromise, it is likely that Facebook means too much to one or both of you. I am exploring this idea of “techno-incompatibility”–when couples have different practices, expectations, or rituals with technology–in some of my current research, because it is a source of a lot of conflict in modern relationships.
What Facebook-advice do you have for people that just broke up?
If they are experiencing emotional distress after the breakup, I would advise them to deactivate their Facebook profile for a while and to let their friends know that they’re doing so. Although many people consider Facebook a great place for social support during events like this, my and other research indicates people do not use Facebook in a healthful manner during this period, particularly preoccupied and fearful individuals. For these types, any advantages of social support are outweighed by the negative effects of “Facebook stalking” the ex-partner.
How can you determine your own attachment style?
Self-report scales used in research are not unlike the personality quizzes you find online. You read the instructions for a measure carefully, then respond to the questions or statements in a truthful manner. Then you can score yourself. The Bartholomew and Horowitz measure we used in this article is very easy to use: it asks you to read four statements and select the one you think is the best description of yourself. That statement corresponds to your attachment style.
Photo: Flickr, tracynori
Reference:Fox J, & Warber KM (2013). Social Networking Sites in Romantic Relationships: Attachment, Uncertainty, and Partner Surveillance on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking PMID: 23952623
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