Scientists have found clues to what compels people to constantly update their Facebook status. College students who posted more status updates than they normally did felt less lonely over the course of a week, even if no one “liked” or commented on their posts, researchers found.
Fenne Grosse Deters, a psychology researcher at the Free University Berlin, and a colleague recruited about 100 undergraduates at the University of Arizona. All participants filled out initial surveys to measure their levels of loneliness, happiness and depression, and they gave the researchers access to their Facebook profiles by friending a dummy user.
The students were sent an analysis of their average weekly status updates (online wall-memos); some were then told to post more updates than usual over the next seven days. During that week, all completed a short online questionnaire at the end of each day about their mood and level of social connection.
Compared with the other students, those who had been urged to go on a status-writing blitz felt less lonely over the week, the team found. Their happiness and depression levels went unchanged, “suggesting that the effect is specific to experienced loneliness,” the researchers wrote. And a drop in loneliness was linked to an increase in feeling more socially connected.
Just writing a status update might help people feel more connected, the researchers said. When crafting a clever status message, Facebook users have a target audience in mind. Simply thinking about their friends (or at least their Facebook “friends”) can have a “social snacking” effect.
“Similar to a snack temporarily reducing hunger until the next meal, social snacking may help tolerate the lack of ‘real’ social interaction for a certain amount of time,” the researchers wrote in a paper published last month in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.