Humans enjoy sharing life stories with others. And the ability to share personal news — both good and bad — has exploded over the last decade, particularly via social media and texting.
However, existing research on “social sharing” — or the act of telling others about the important events in our lives — has been limited to personal or face-to-face interactions.
A new study explores what happens when people share via new media.
University of Wisconsin, Madison researchers investigated the following research questions:
What media do people choose for sharing their important personal events? How do they feel when they share these events in mediated environments that lack nonverbal cues like hugs or high-fives?
“Social sharing is very widespread,” said study author Catalina Toma. “It’s almost like the event is not even real until you tell somebody.”
The study, run by graduate student Mina Choi and Toma, included 300 undergraduate students at University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Participants kept track of how sharing affected their emotions by keeping a daily diary, in which they noted what they shared, where they shared it, and how they felt both after the event and the sharing had occurred.
Results show that nearly 70 percent of the social sharing in the study took place via some kind of media, whether it was texting, phone calls, Facebook, or Twitter.
Toma, who studies online self-presentation and how emotional well-being is affected by social media, said people use phones, texting, and social media to connect with others in a “substantial way.”
Further, participants strategically chose the media that could meet their psychological needs.
When experiencing positive events, people preferred to share via texting and Twitter, because both media are easily accessible from smartphones and are nonintrusive in that communication partners don’t have to reply immediately.
“When something positive happens, you want to tell it right away,” Toma said.
When experiencing negative events, people could justify interrupting their partners and preferred using the telephone, a more intrusive medium.
“You often hear people say when the phone rings, it’s bad news. Our data supports that.”
Choi and Toma also found that social sharing via media enhanced the emotional tone of the event. Sharing a positive event increased its impact, an effect known as capitalization.
“Telling somebody makes you even happier.”
But if you feel sad because you had a lousy trip to the dentist or a fight with your spouse and post something about it on Facebook, you will not feel better. Regardless of which form of media people in the study used to share bad news, they felt worse (though sharing by telephone had the smallest negative effect).
“Their negative effect got aggravated,” Toma said. “Sharing makes it more real.”
“Examining how people share their important personal events through new media and how they feel as a result of it is a golden opportunity to learn how humans work.”
Source: University of Wisconsin, Madison