You are what you tweet: the psychology of social media

Posted on October 11, 2012

Most of us spend an incredible amount of time involved in some sort of digital media related activity. We tweet the happenings of our days, click “like” on the materials our Facebook friends share, create digital scrapbooks with Instagram and post videos of our cats on YouTube. There’s an app for pretty much anything and our cellphones have become an extension of ourselves. (I freak out if mine is out of my sight for even five minutes). It’s not uncommon to see two people sitting across from each other at a table, not speaking, but typing furiously away on their phones instead.

Credit: 451heat.com

With so much digital media so readily available, it’s not a stretch to think that it’s having a psychological impact on us. But is it positive or negative? That is the question.

Sex, booze and social media?

A recent study conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business says that social media is just as addictive as sex and cigarettes. The study took place in Germany, where researchers gave 250 participants between the ages of 18 – 85 a Blackberry and asked them to report whether they’d had an urge to do anything on a supplied list, including checking social media, every 30 minutes. They were also asked to track any urges to sleep, consume alcohol, have sex or smoke. Participants ranked the strength or their urges and reported every time they gave in to one of them.

Researchers say study results show that social media is more tempting than sex, cigarettes and even sleep. This Forbes article suggests the research is better interpreted as indicating that the desire to check our social networking sites occurs more frequently than our other urges because social media is so readily available. It’s much easier to check your Facebook page than it is to get to a store and pay for a pack of cigarettes.

Either way, the study adds scientific credence to my need to check Twitter whenever I’m waiting for the CTrain, in the doctor’s office waiting room, in the change room at yoga, at the top of a mountain, on the chairlift at Sunshine…

The psychology of social networking

This summer, an infographic was released that explored the relationship we have with social media, focusing in particular on how social networking sites allow us to dabble in narcissistic behaviours. Here are some of most interesting stats:

  • 1 out of every 8 people on Earth is on Facebook.
  • Every minute, we generate 694,980 Facebook status updates and write 532,080 tweets.
  • 80 % of those posts are about ourselves.
  • 250 million photos are updated daily, and 35% of people tag themselves in photos.

These stats underscore what most of us already know – we’re online social networking essentially all the time. But the next few stats seem to illustrate something a bit darker:

  • Half of social network users compare themselves to others when they view photos or read status updates.
  • The more time people spend on Facebook the more they start to believe that others have a better life than they do.
  • Those with high levels of narcissism or low self-esteem spend more than an hour a day on Facebook.

Media psychology

The topic of social media and psychology is widely discussed academically. Today’s proliferation of social networking sites, Facebook in particular, is a driving force behind the growing field of media psychology. And media psychologists have plenty to keep them busy:

  • An article, headlined “The Media Psychology Effect”, discusses Internet Addiction Disorder, stating that, like other addictions, Internet addicts experience physical symptoms like shivers, nausea and anxiety. The author says that Internet addicts are most likely to be those people who use digital media as “an emotional or mental refuge”.
  • A U.S. communications professor and media psychologist is exploring the “effects of technology society”, paying particular attention to “the mixed messages associated with social networking sites”.
  • This National Post article explores a number of social media and psychology related topics, including: the impact of social media on family dynamics, healthy eating habits, daily socializing, cyberbullying, low self-esteem and depression. The article cites a pediatrician who coined the phrase “Facebook depression” because she says Facebook can act as a magnifier for people who are susceptible to depression. Further, the article mentions Facebook addiction, a label psychologists are using for the tendency of Facebook users to feel like they will fall behind, or be left out, if they don’t check their profile frequently.

About Kelly Ferrier

Kelly Ferrier is Editor/Community Manager at communicatto. Her love of the written word has taken her into a number of industries. This diverse writing background means there's no subject she can't turn into a compelling story. From blog posts and social media community management, to magazine articles and annual reports, Kelly writes copy that captures reader attention and holds it until the final word. When she’s away from her computer, you can find her embarking on mountain adventures, cooking weird and wonderful vegetarian meals or practicing hot yoga.

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