Recent psychological research suggests that social networking can help university students feel supported in their first few weeks at school. Investigating the possibility, Dr. Chris Stiff from Keele University, UK, carried out a study on undergraduates’ use of Facebook and their adjustment.
A total of 141 students completed anonymous questionnaires on their self-esteem, well-being and stress levels, and their Facebook use. This showed that students who interacted more on Facebook in their first semester reported being happier and less stressed and had higher self-esteem. However, a greater number of Facebook friends did not appear to be beneficial.
The second part of the study involved 169 students completing the same questionnaire halfway through their first year. At this point, the frequency of their Facebook use was not linked to stress, self-esteem or well-being, but having more Facebook friends was linked to higher self-esteem and well-being.
In the first semester, students who have a tight support network surrounding them are likely to feel more confident and appreciated, say the researchers. By the second half of the year, those with more friends on Facebook are likely to be the ones who have been happier, interacted more, and have therefore made more new friends.
Dr. Stiff presented his findings last September at the British Psychological Society annual conference in Cambridge, UK. He believes that receiving frequent messages on Facebook could help students who are about to begin college and are feeling in need of support.
“When teenagers come to university for the first time, they may find this significant life transition extremely stressful. Moreover, as the new student’s local support network is no longer available due to their geographical displacement, stress and associated maladies may be exacerbated.
“Facebook is not just a tool for superficial social networking,” he said, “it is also a highly effective conduit for social support during students’ first few dizzying months at university.”
However, more recent research suggests that people who spend more time on Facebook have a relatively worse self-image. Dr. Hui-Tzu Chou of Utah Valley University and colleagues explain that Facebook “provides a platform for people to manage others’ impressions of them.” Because people tend to present themselves in a favorable way on their Facebook profile, reading these profiles may have an impact on others’ perceptions of their own lives.
In the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, the team reports on their study of 425 undergraduates at a state university in Utah. The students were given questionnaires on the duration of their Facebook use, time spent on Facebook each week, number of Facebook friends, and perceptions about others’ lives.
Those who had used Facebook longer and who spent more time on Facebook believed that others were happier, and were less likely to believe that life is fair. Having more people who they did not personally know as Facebook “friends” was also linked to believing that others had better lives.
Dr. Chou states that Facebook users “tend to attribute the positive content presented on Facebook to others’ personality, rather than situational factors, especially for those they do not know personally.”
It seems that the impact of Facebook on self-esteem is a mixed bag. A 2011 Kent State University study concluded that having a greater number of Facebook friends is positively linked to well-being.
The 391 college students in the survey described their “self-presentation strategies” as either positive or honest. Analysis showed that positive self-presentation had a direct effect on well-being. But honest self-presentation had an indirect effect on well-being via perceived social support from Facebook friends. The researchers say that self-disclosure plays an important role in signaling one’s need for social support.
Finally, a team from Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts looked at how Facebook relates to self-esteem and adjustment to college among 70 students. Their survey implied that the number of Facebook friends “potentially hinders academic adjustment, and spending a lot of time on Facebook is related to low self-esteem.”
Number of Facebook friends was negatively linked to emotional and academic adjustment among first-year students. However, the relationship became positive later in college life, “when students use Facebook effectively to connect socially with their peers.”
These researchers, led by Dr. Maria Kalpidou, write that their findings point to “the value of studying further the notion of Facebook friends.”
Facebook as a Means of Managing Stress Associated with Life Transitions. Can Social Networking Help New University Students? Presented by Dr Chris Stiff of Keele University at the British Psychological Society Social Psychology Section annual conference in Cambridge, UK, from September 6-8, 2011.
“They Are Happier and Having Better Lives than I Am:” The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others’ Lives. Chou, H. T. and Edge, N. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, published online December 14, 2011.
The Facebook Paths to Happiness: Effects of the Number of Facebook Friends and Self-Presentation on Subjective Well-Being. Kim, J. and Lee, J. E. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, published online November 30, 2011.
The Relationship between Facebook and the Well-Being of Undergraduate College Students. Kalpidou, M., Costin, D. and Morris, J. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, published online December 30, 2010.
Collingwood, J. (2012). Does Facebook Help Students Adapt to College?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2012/does-facebook-help-students-adapt-to-college/
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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