A Psychological Perspective Part I

Facebook has been largely acknowledge as the biggest social networking site online. It’s hard to dispute the claims. But the questions is…why? Why is it the biggest, More specifically, why do people use it?

Do answer this, we need to have a look at it from a psychological perspective of human behavior. Using an article by Ashwini Nadkarni  and Stefan G Hofmann, the next three posts will attempt to explain why people use Facebook (and by extension, social networks).

The authors propose 2 basic needs for human interaction as an explanation for using Facebook: ‘(1) the need to belong, and (2) the need for self-presentation. The need to belong refers to the intrinsic drive to affiliate with others and gain social acceptance, and the need for self-presentation to the continuous process of impression management. These two motivational factors can co-exist, but can also each be the single cause for FB use’ (Nadkarni and Hofmann, 2011).

Need to Belong

Imagine being at school, in which you are the outcast from a group of friends. Being ‘shunned’ and alone can have a very negative impact on your self-esteem and confidence, especially at a young age. Self-esteem has been thought to ‘act as a sociometer – a monitor of one’s acceptability to the group’ (Nadkarni and Hofmann, 2011).

In addition, we have to factor in the themes of individualism and collectivism. Collectivism means the relationship between social group members  that places importance on other members. In these communities, the main objective is keeping everyone happy and that individual ‘glory’ is frowned upon. Individualism refers to where personal glory/achievements gain the highest social respect and prestige. ‘No study has examined the difference in FB use between individualistic and collectivistic cultures. We hypothesize that FB use will serve a different function in these culture groups…we hypothesize that members from individualistic cultures are more likely to share private information with their FB friends and are more likely to raise potentially controversial topics as compared to FB users from collectivistic cultures’ (Nadkarni and Hofmann, 2011).

The authors’ review of current literature suggests that this is dependent to a degree on sociodemographic and cultural factors. This means ethical/racial factors play a key role in social relationships, ‘specifically, we found that females and ethnic minorities tend to use FB more often than males and Caucasians in some studies’ (Nadkarni and Hofmann, 2011).

Self-esteem appears to be more prominent in individualistic cultures. And why wouldn’t it be? If you stand out from the crowd, you are a VIP. In collectivist groups, members usually look at the social norms of the group in order to become ‘satisfied’ with their lives rather than on judgement by themselves. ‘People in collectivist cultures, as compared to individualistic societies, are more likely to remain in marriages and jobs that they consider unhappy, possible because they attempt to conform to social norms and perhaps because people in troubled marriages and jobs are more likely to get support from others’ (Diener, cited in Nadkarni and Hofmann, 2011).

It’s been theorised that FB can be seen as a support system for individuals in collectivistic cultures.We can say ‘individuals in collectivistic cultures are more likely to have more frequent interactions and form a close circle of FB friends’ (Nadkarni and Hofmann, 2011).

On a FB profile, users can edit personal information to view. Gonzales et al (2010) did a study, with the results suggesting that looking at such information on a profile page can promote self-esteem and life satisfaction. Why wouldn’t you feel pleased about looking at yourself and seeing all the achievements you’ve gained in life? This is true when it comes to editing what information you choose.

In another study, Yu et al (2010) noted positive feedback between FB use and self-esteem, which they did at an undergrad institution in China. Their results showed FB was beneficial to students to socialise within this environment and their learning outcomes. They based this one two factors: firstly, FB use developed relational links with their peers. I.e. it helped them ‘fit’ into their social group. Secondly, FB allowed for students to ‘fit’ into university life more easily. The reasons for these, however, are socially complex to explain.

There’s evidence to suggest FB use is slightly dependent on ‘disconnection’ (with life), in which there is a greater motivation to use it. Deci & Ryan, 2000, 2008; Sheldon & Gunz, 2009 proposed a theory that is based on human  self-determination. The theory suggests humans have 3 psychological needs: autonomy (self-expressive); competent (effective) and related (connected). We all need to have space to express ourselves, we all need to be effective in our life, and we all need to be be related to something (like a group).

The need to be related has bearing as evidence appears to show that FB use can improve self-esteem due to the increased sense of belonging. Kim and Lee, 2011 conducted a study at a Midwestern university. They researched whether the relationship between FB use and subjective well being in a student group led to an influenced self well being via FB (such as FB friends or profile page). ‘Results showed that both factors had a positive association with subjective well being number. The authors inferred from this that because FB enables visualization of social connections it also validates and enhances users’ self-esteem’ (Nadkarni and Hofmann, 2011).

Ok, that’s enough for part I. Apologies for the wordy posts. I tried to make it as clear as possible so there’s less confusion. Stay tuned for Part II!


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