For frequent Facebook users, not posting or not earning responses from posts results in a decreased sense of belonging. Some users even report that Facebook activity associated with their posts helps them feel their existence has meaning, according to recent studies.
A pair of behavioral studies conducted by researchers from The University of Queensland's School of Psychology in Australia aimed to determine just how much social media influenced factors like self-esteem and a sense of belonging or purpose in the world.
What the researchers found was somewhat alarming.
In one study, researchers recruited a sample of Facebook users who reported frequently making posts on the social media platform. These participants were divided into two groups, one of which was asked to carry-on and "post as usual." The other group was asked to continue reading Facebook posts and activity as they normally do, but were restricted from making posts themselves.
After two days of these conditions, the researchers interviewed each participant, assessing their levels of belonging, self-esteem, sense of control, and sense of having a "meaningful existence."
Predictably, the "do not post" group reported feeling more left out of the social media world without their ability to contribute, feeling lower levels of belonging. This group also frequently reported lower levels of "meaningful existence" compared to the "post as usual group."
Interestingly, the "post as usual" participants also commonly reported a lower sense of belonging, simply because less of the overall group was giving them feedback due to the "do not post" rule.
In a similar study, the same team had regular Facebook users come into their lab to make a status update on a Facebook account created for the experiment. Even when this account was not their own, the users reported lower levels of belonging, self-esteem, and sense of control when they did not receive Facebook responses (likes, comments etc.), compared to those who did.
According to the authors of the study, these results indicate that "digitally native" generations are susceptible to a new social phenomenon, where a "lack of information sharing and feedback can threaten belonging needs."
The studies were originally published alongside one another in Social Influence on March 7.
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