If you ever wondered what social networking websites actually were for, researchers today have at least one answer. A new study shows that Facebook is actually the result of a Harvard psychology experiment that inadvertently gained popularity outside of the Introductory to Psychology class it was designed for.
“It was meant as a simple lab requirement for our undergraduate psychology students,” said Mark Zuckerberg, a professor of psychology at Harvard who masqueraded as the site’s CEO. “We never imagined they would turn it into an actual social networking website.”
The study began with a website that featured only a login page, a profile page, and a way to denote that other people in the class were friends. Researchers were interested in whether or not people in the class would immediately become competitive and try and gain as many friends as possible.
They hypothesized that humans are naturally competitive and once friendship numbers were public information, otherwise rationale adults would start behaving in a frenzied, competitive manner to obtain more and more friends.
In order to accommodate the competitive nature of subjects within the study, more friends were recruited from outside the Introductory to Psychology course.
“We quickly used up all the friends in the class, even at a class size of 1,200, it just wasn’t enough for the more competitive students. Luckily, Harvard is a big school,” said Zuckerberg.
After the Harvard campus was depleted, the researchers started adding local wildlife and dogs to the site, which they initially had generically named, “How Many Friends Can You Get?.com”
The name was changed first to “Bookface,” and then finally “Facebook” when the researchers saw how people enjoyed looking at faces in a book. “We never knew that books could contain so many pretty pictures,” the researchers wrote in the study.
The study started going awry when the students started befriending the campus rats.
“At some point, you have to know when to call it quits,” the researchers said.
Students around the Harvard campus began suffering from Facebook withdrawal and Facebook depression shortly after the experiment was shut down. A group of rogue students took over the site and reopened it to the general public a week later.
The next experiment planned by the researchers is a game focused on getting people to enjoy the benefits of hard labor again, in anticipation of the soon-to-come global economic crisis.
“We call it Farmville, because pretty soon, we’re all going to be forced to grow our own crops again,” noted the researchers. “What better way to get re-acclimated to farming and hard labor than to do it on your computer?”
The study is published online in the journal, Cyberpsychology, Social Networking and Behavior.
Source: Harvard University
This was Psych Central’s April Fool’s Day joke for 2011.