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Do Social Networks Undermine Self-Control?

By Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on January 15, 2013

Do Social Networks Undermine Self-ControlThe advantages of social networks are self-evident as the sites allow copious social support and provide opportunities to boost self-confidence and self-esteem.

While this may seem like a good outcome, new research suggests the pendulum may swing too far as too much self-esteem can reduce an individual’s self-control.

Researchers say users of Facebook and other social networks should beware of allowing their self-esteem — boosted by “likes” or positive comments from close friends.

In a paper recently published online in the Journal of Consumer Research, investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School say the elevated self-esteem can reduce some users’ self-control both on- and offline.

The study suggests that users who are focused on close friends tend to experience an increase in self-esteem while browsing their social networks; afterwards, these users display less self-control.

Investigators also discovered greater social network use among users with strong ties to their friends is associated with individuals having higher body-mass indexes and higher levels of credit-card debt.

“To our knowledge, this is the first research to show that using online social networks can affect self-control,” said coauthor Andrew T. Stephen.

“We have demonstrated that using today’s most popular social network, Facebook, may have a detrimental affect on people’s self-control.”

Stephen coauthored the research with Keith Wilcox, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School. The paper includes the results of five separate studies conducted with a total of more than 1,000 U.S. Facebook users.

In the researchers’ initial study, participants completed surveys about how closely they’re connected to friends on Facebook. Then they were split into two groups: one group that wrote about the experience of browsing Facebook and another group that actually browsed Facebook. Both groups then completed a self-esteem survey.

Regardless of whether the participants wrote about Facebook browsing or actually browsed the site, the participants with weak ties to Facebook friends did not experience an increase in self-esteem, but those with strong ties to friends had an enhanced sense of self-esteem.

The second study evaluated why Facebook users with strong ties to friends were more likely to experience an increase in self-esteem.

Participants were prompted to browse Facebook for five minutes. Some were told to pay attention to the status updates and other information people were sharing with them. Others were directed to concentrate on information they were sharing.

The researchers concluded that browsing Facebook only increased participants’ self-esteem when they were focused on the information they were presenting to others.

“We find that people experience greater self-esteem when they focus on the image they are presenting to strong ties in their social networks,” said Wilcox.

“This suggests that even though people are sharing the same positive information with strong ties and weak ties on social networks, they feel better about themselves when the information is received by strong ties than by weak ties.”

Cookies, granola bars, and word puzzles were part of the methodology of the third and fourth studies, which established the link between self-esteem and self-control.

Participants in the third study were instructed either to check Facebook or read news articles on CNN.com, then choose between eating a granola bar or a chocolate-chip cookie. Those who had browsed Facebook were more likely to choose the cookie.

Participants in the fourth study were given anagram word puzzles to solve after either checking Facebook or reading TMZ.com, a celebrity news and gossip website. The Facebook browsers were more likely to give up on the puzzles.

The fifth investigation, an online field study, examined the relationship between online social network use and offline behaviors associated with poor self-control.

Participants completed a survey asking about their height and weight, the number of credit cards they own and the amount of debt on them, and how many friends they have offline, among other questions.

“The results suggest that greater social network use is associated with a higher body-mass index, increased binge eating, a lower credit score, and higher levels of credit-card debt for individuals with strong ties to their social network,” the researchers wrote.

Stephen and Wilcox say the five studies have implications for policy-makers because self-control is an important mechanism for maintaining social order and well-being.

“It would be worthwhile for researchers and policy makers to further explore social network use in order to better understand which consumers may be particularly vulnerable to suffering negative psychological or social consequences,” the authors wrote.

Future studies are necessary to address the long-term effects of Facebook on users.

“It would be interesting,” the authors write, “to explore the persistence of the effect of browsing Facebook over time.”

Source: Columbia Business School

Hand pointing at a computer showing social network photo by shutterstock.

 

APA Reference
Nauert, R. (2013). Do Social Networks Undermine Self-Control?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/01/15/do-social-networks-undermine-self-control/50384.html