This Social Media Switch Improves Body Image (M)

Afterwards, young people felt better about their overall appearance and body weight.

Afterwards, young people felt better about their overall appearance and body weight.

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Online Disinhibition: Effect, Causes, Examples

The online disinhibition effect has cost people their jobs, their income and their relationships, yet many are still oblivious to it.

The online disinhibition effect has cost people their jobs, their income and their relationships, yet many are still oblivious to it.

The first famous case of someone allegedly losing their job from indiscreet remarks made online was in 2002.

Heather Armstrong, author of the blog ‘dooce‘, claimed she was fired after her colleagues discovered she’d been lampooning them online.

Examples of online disinhibition

Another early example was this girl who was ‘Facebook fired’ after she said exactly what she thought of her boss on Facebook after a bad day at work.

What she’d forgotten was they were Facebook friends, so the update would appear front and centre the next time he logged into Facebook.

She might as well have said it straight to his face and, for good measure, kicked him in the shins.

These are two examples of what psychologists call the ‘online disinhibition effect’, the idea that when online people feel less inhibited by social conventions.

Compared with face-to-face interactions, online we feel freer to do and say what we want and, as a result, often do and say things we shouldn’t.

Internet psychologist John Suler has written about six characteristics of the internet which lead to radical changes in our online behaviour (Suler, 2004):

1. Anonymity and online disinhibition

Online people feel they can’t be identified in the same way they can when they’re in public.

It’s similar to going out in a costume at night with a mask on to cover the face (see research on deindividuation).

That sense of disconnection from our normal personality allows new ways of behaving.

People may even consider their online behaviours to arise from an online alter ego.

Ironically, though, some people are far less anonymous online than offline.

Because of the online disinhibition effect some share too much on their social networking profiles, sometimes even things they wouldn’t admit to their closest friends.

It’s easy to forget that you don’t need espionage training to type someone’s name into Google.

2. Invisibility and online disinhibition

Because others can’t see us online, we don’t have to worry about how we look to others and what emotional signals we are sending through facial expressions.

Imagine, for example, that you’re telling a friend about a distressing experience face-to-face.

You may feel the urge to try and hide the depth of your emotion from them, which stops you telling the story.

Online, however, you can continue to tell the story without giving away how bad it really is.

It can allow us to open up about things that we can’t discuss face-to-face.

Online support groups rely on this openness to allow members to discuss their deepest hopes and fears.

This is one of the potentially positive aspects of the online disinhibition effect, as long as users protect their privacy and identity.

3. Stop/start communication

Face-to-face we see people’s reactions to what we’ve said or done immediately.

That tends to put us off upsetting them or risking their judgement.

Online there are no such restrictions: because of online asynchronicity it’s possible to say something and wait 24 hours before reading the response, or never read it at all.

This cuts both ways.

So-called ‘internet trolls‘ are people who post to discussion forums or other online groups with the express purpose of stirring up controversy (known online as flame wars).

They are experts in a kind of emotional hit-and-run.

On the other hand, people who have difficulty when communicating face-to-face can become eloquent and courteous when online.

The majority of us probably fall somewhere in between these two extreme positions.

Nevertheless the lack of instant feedback from other people’s body language causes all sorts of communication failures online, resulting from the online disinhibition effect.

One of the most common causes of these failures is jokes.

Without the accompanying body language, friendly jibes are easily misunderstood and interactions can quickly take a turn for the worse.

4. Voices in your head

The very act of reading online can create a surprisingly intimate connection.

Because other people’s words are in our heads, we may merge them with our own internal monologues.

While humans have been reading novels and letters for centuries, these are relatively formal modes of communication, and it’s only in the last decade that online communication has brought the intimacy of a letter to informal, everyday conversation.

5. An imaginary world

The anonymity, invisibility and fantasy elements of online activities encourage us to think that the usual rules don’t apply.

Like a science fiction escape fantasy, the net allows us to be who we want and do what we want, both good and bad.

The problem is that when life becomes a game that can be left behind at the flick of a switch, it’s easy to throw responsibility out of the window.

6. No police

We all fear disapproval and punishment, but this imaginary world appears to have no police and no authority figures.

Although there are people with authority online, it’s difficult to tell who they are.

There is no internet government, no one person in charge of it all.

So people feel freer online: away from authority, social convention and conformity.

Of course the idea that authority doesn’t exist online is fantasy because the policeman exists inside all of us, to a greater or lesser extent.

Freedom creates online disinhibition

These factors work together to create a world in which we can feel freer.

But this freedom is an illusion maintained by the online experience of invisibility, anonymity and lack of immediate, visceral, emotional feedback from others, or at least our ability to turn that feedback off.

Perhaps this is freedom: some people do report feeling closer to their real selves when online.

But there’s a reason we developed all those social inhibitions in the old-fashioned, offline world.

They stop us offending other people, which helps us keep our jobs and maintain our relationships.

That’s not to say that the internet can’t help us build relationships with others or find jobs, it clearly can.

It’s just that we tend to be less aware of both how much our behaviour can change online and the potential drawbacks to these changes.

Every now and then we need reminding that the internet is still a relatively fresh invention and, socially, we are still coming to terms with it.

Long-established niceties of face-to-face behaviour haven’t yet taken hold online and, in the absence of precedent, we have to wing it.


Facebook: Why You Should Take A 5-Day Holiday — Maybe Quit Forever

“61% of current Facebook users reported having taken a Facebook vacation”

“61% of current Facebook users reported having taken a Facebook vacation”

Giving up Facebook for 5 days is linked to lower levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, research finds.

This suggests there could be benefits in taking a ‘Facebook holiday’.

That wouldn’t be unusual among Facebook users, according to research quoted by the authors:

“61% of current Facebook users reported having taken a “Facebook vacation,” in which they voluntarily stopped using Facebook for several weeks or more.

Moreover, 20% of adults reported once using Facebook but no longer did so.

Excessive use of Facebook appears to be too much of a good thing.”

The study included 138 active Facebook users.

Almost half were randomly told to quit for five days, while the rest carried on using it as normal.

The researchers measured their cortisol levels, loneliness, life satisfaction, mood and stress.

After the five days, the people who quit Facebook had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The study’s authors explain the results:

“Relative to those in the Facebook Normal condition, those in the No Facebook condition experienced lower levels of cortisol and life satisfaction.

Our results suggest that the typical Facebook user may occasionally find the large amount of social information available taxing, and Facebook vacations could ameliorate this stress — at least in the short-term.”

However, Facebook quitters also saw a drop in their life satisfaction.

People reported being happy when the study was over so they could get back to Facebook.

This suggests that while Facebook can be stressful, people are deriving pleasure from it.

The study’s authors conclude:

…these effects are consistent with the general ambivalent feelings that may typify most active users about Facebook.

It has become an essential social tool for millions of users and it obviously provides many benefits.

Yet, perhaps because it conveys so much social information about a large network of people, it can also be taxing, which is why the occasional Facebook break may happen naturally.

The study was published in the Journal of Social Psychology (Vanman et al., 2018).

Why You Should Quit Facebook — At Least For A Week

Why you should quit Facebook: psychologists tested the effect of a week-long break from the social media site.

Why you should quit Facebook: psychologists tested the effect of a week-long break from the social media site.

There is a brand new treatment available which can increase your concentration, boost your social life and increase your happiness.

It’s totally free. You can start right now. It doesn’t require any drugs, or meeting psychologists or anything else at all.

Want to try it? Of course you do.

It’s called ‘Taking-A-Week-Off-Facebook’.

The ‘treatment’ is based on a study by the Happiness Research Institute, which is a Danish think-tank.

They split 1,095 regular Facebook users into two groups.

One kept on using the social networking site as normal for the week while the other group simply stopped.

Why you should quit Facebook: results

After the week, people in the ‘treatment’ group reported all sorts of miraculous improvements:

  • A better social life.
  • Finding it easier to concentrate.
  • Being in a better mood.
  • Wasting less time.

Instead of using Facebook, people found better things to do: they talked to each other, they called their family, they felt much calmer.

So, what is it that Facebook is doing to us?

Part of the reason for feeling better after a week of avoiding Facebook could be down to Facebook envy.

Because people tend to only post their best moments to Facebook, it’s like a highlights reel.

Reviewing other people’s best moments (rather than your own) all the time can give you a sinking feeling, as the study’s authors found:

“5 out of 10 envy the amazing experiences of others posted on Facebook.

1 out of 3 envy how happy other people seem on Facebook.

4 out of 10 envy the apparent success of others on Facebook.”

When we are continually comparing our own experiences with other people’s highlights, it makes us feel inadequate.

Next stage for the researchers at the Happiness Institute is get people to give up Facebook for a whole year.


The Psychology Of Twitter: 10 Early Insights

Psychological research on Twitter reveals who tweets, how much, what they talk about and why.

Psychological research on Twitter reveals who tweets, how much, what they talk about and why.

Who tweets? Why? What are they talking about? And what is so engaging about all those little textual transmissions?

Here are 10 of my favourite insights from this research, some less obvious than others.

Caution: This post was originally written in 2010 and it describes early research done on Twitter — some of it is outdated.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a cross between a social network and a blog.

The blog part is that users read and write 280 character ‘tweets’ which are largely public.

The social network part is that people ‘follow’ each other then become part of each other’s Twitter conversations, they can also ‘retweet’ or retransmit other people’s messages to their own followers.

The video above shows you what it looks like on a mobile phone.

1. Twitter is like a game of broken telephone

Because messages are short and can be broadcast quickly and easily, Twitter can feel to its users like a fast-paced conversation (Boyd et al., 2010).

The difference from a normal conversation is that people are taking part in a whole range of different interactions.

It’s like being at a party and talking to 10 different groups at the same time.

All sorts of processes that you would recognise from conversations are also going on in Twitter: much information is simply repeated (retweeted) but messages are corrupted over time, like a game of broken telephone (UK: Chinese whispers), as people re-evaluate, re-interpret or misinterpret the meaning of the original tweet.

But Twitter doesn’t always feel like a conversation as people use it in different ways.

In the same way that talking isn’t always conversation, sometimes it’s a command, an expression of surprise or an aid to thought.

In other words, Twitter isn’t just social, it has a big informational component, which we’ll come on to.

2. People join Twitter to follow their friends

Network analysis of Twitter users in the early days by Java et al. (2007) suggested that people join because their friends are already using it.

The networks resembled those seen in the analysis of cell phone networks.

The huge number of users is just what we’ve come to expect from the internet: people can easily conform to the technological norm because services are often free, and it’s well-known that free is a special price we can’t resist.

The number of users is less interesting than what people are using it for and why.

3. Most tweets are babble

While not academic research, some insight into what people are talking about on Twitter comes from an analytics company who categorised 2,000 tweets collected over one week.

They fell into six categories (similar percentages were found by Java et al., 2007):

  1. Pointless babble: 41%
  2. Conversational: 38%
  3. Pass-along value: 9%
  4. Self-promotion: 6%
  5. Spam: 4%
  6. News: 4%

What they call ‘pointless babble’ might better be called social pleasantries, social grooming or at least just babble.

Like when someone says “How are you?” and you say “Fine.”

It may be low-level, but it’s not pointless.

4. The average age is 31

The average (median) age for a Twitter user is 31, older than the median MySpace user who is 26, but younger than Facebook which is now 33.

LinkedIn has the oldest users with the median being 39.

Predictably the strongest growth in Twitter use is amongst those aged 18-24 (Pew, 2009).

5. Men are Twitter leaders

Some suggestions of sex differences come from Heil & Piskorski (2009).

They found that there were slightly more women than men on Twitter (55% women), but that, on average, men had 15% more followers than women, with men twice as likely to follow another man as they were a woman, and women 25% more likely to follow men.

Both men and women, however, were found to tweet at the same rate.

This finding is unusual given that it’s normally women who are the focus of attention on social networks, from both other men and other women.

I’m always cautious about reporting sex differences and keen to point out that psychologically men and women are very similar.

But perhaps there’s something about Twitter that, on average, fits slightly more with men.

6. 20 per cent are ‘informers’, 80 per cent are ‘meformers’

After examining 350 messages collected from Twitter, Naaman (2010) found two different types of user:

  • Informers: 20% shared information and replied to other users
  • Meformers: 80% mostly sent out information about themselves.

Informers tended to have larger social networks, perhaps because they passed on more interesting things and weren’t talking about themselves all the time.

This split hints at the different ways that people use Twitter.

It also suggests that the conversational aspects of Twitter may have been overstated.

If 80% of users don’t reply to others then it’s not that social.

7. Trends are one-time and short-lived

Tweets on a particular topic (Twitter trends) rarely last longer than a week and usually no more than a few days (Kwak et al., 2010).

Most topics only trend once, then die, usually never to return. 85% of these trends are news-related.

Perhaps the reason for this is that trends, which are attached to the use of particular words or phrases, are often very specific.

8. Average tweet frequency is 1

The average (median) lifetime number of tweets for a Twitter user is 1 (Heil & Piskorski, 2009).

This means most people who sign up are just following others or don’t use it at all. Once again, the power of ‘free’ and very low barriers to entry.

At the other end of the scale 10% of Twitter users contribute 90% of the tweets.

This finding is unusual compared to other social networks where the use isn’t nearly so top-heavy.

Heil & Piskorski note that in this respect Twitter is more like Wikipedia, which has a similar rate of top-heavy usage.

Many but not all of the most-followed Twitter users are, unsurprisingly, celebrities.

This top-heavy usage reflects the fact that being interesting is a talent that not everyone can acquire (without relying on the halo effect of being famous that is).

Occasionally, though, some manage the trick of being famous and quite interesting.

9. Existential angst can motivate users

Twitter is often uncharitably said to be perfect for our narcissistic age.

It enables people to gather followers, talk about themselves, all without having to listen to anyone else.

A small study conducted by Qiu et al. (2010) has suggested that amongst the extroverted it really is existential angst that motivates tweeting.

The same wasn’t found, though, for those who weren’t so extroverted.

I’d put forward a more positive argument: Twitter is simply a fun toy that’s easy to use.

It’s much easier than blogging, you can mess around, you don’t have to say much and it makes the web a little more homely.

At the same time it’s not as obsessed as Facebook and other social networks with gathering and displaying huge amounts of information about you.

It’s less social than Facebook, which people seem to like.

10. Twitter is less social and more informational

Support for the idea that Twitter is more informational and less social than other social networks comes from Johnson and Yang (2009; PDF) who found that people treat other Twitter users primarily as interesting information sources.

In this study people also gained the most gratification from information they had found through Twitter.

The social aspect of it, however, participants didn’t find particularly gratifying, despite a positive expectation.

Network analysis also tends to play down the social aspects of the site.

Twitter shows relatively low levels of reciprocity compared with other social networking sites.

Only 22% of Twitter users have reciprocal links between them, compared with 68% on Flickr and 84% on Yahoo! 360.

Kwak et al. (2010) found that the average path length is 4.12 with 93.5% of people within 5 or fewer hops of everyone else.

This is mostly because Twitter is dominated by a small number of celebrities, making many more big nodes than would be expected in a social network.

Future Twitter

Of course these are only the first insights emerging from the research and people are evolving new and interesting ways of using and analysing Twitter all the time.

Here are a few that I came across on my virtual travels.

Hughes and Palen (2009) looked at the use of Twitter in mass and emergency events.

Tweets during two hurricanes and two political conventions suggested that people are increasingly using Twitter to share information with each other.

Here’s another way in which the informational nature of Twitter has come to the fore.

Twitter is perfect for a crisis when information needs to be moved quickly and efficiently around social networks. Indeed researchers can detect emergency events like earthquakes by monitoring Twitter (Sakaki et al., 2010).

Twitter has also been used to measure the mood of the nation. Alan Mislove and colleagues collected 300 million tweets from the US, analysed their emotional content, and produced a ‘mood of the nation‘ video.

It shows how the emotional content of people’s tweets changes over the day (red is negative and green positive)

Interestingly, their Twitter analysis backs up a finding I covered previously that Monday is not the most depressing day of the week using a radically different method.

Twitter is even starting to be used by researchers as a health intervention (e.g. Young, 2009).


Make This Social Media Switch To Enhance Your Well-Being In 2 Weeks (M)

The life-enhancing effects are seen in just two weeks and last for at least six months.

The life-enhancing effects are seen in just two weeks and last for at least six months.

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Taking Photos Has A Surprising Psychological Benefit, Large Study Finds

How taking photos affects the enjoyment of everyday experiences.

How taking photos affects the enjoyment of everyday experiences.

It turns out that photography has an unsuspected psychological benefit.

Taking photos can enhance the enjoyment of everyday activities, a study finds.

Far from being distracted in the moment, people who take photos seem to get more out of their experience — in most circumstances.

The study’s authors write:

“To the best of our knowledge, this research is the first extensive investigation examining how taking photos affects people’s enjoyment of their experiences.

We show that, relative to not taking photos, photography can heighten enjoyment of positive experiences by increasing engagement.”

The researchers conducted nine experiments including over 2,000 people for their paper.

Some were in the lab, while others were out ‘in the field’.

In one, for example, people were taken on a bus tour.

Half were advised to take photos and the other half not.

Those that took photos generally found the experience more enjoyable.

The reason that taking photos works is that it helps engage people in the experience, the authors write:

“…capturing experiences with photos actually focuses attention onto the experience, particularly on aspects of the experience worth capturing.

As a result, photo-taking leads people to become more engaged with the experience.”

Perhaps the benefits are also related to ‘mindful photography‘:

“…happiness is boosted by being grateful for what you have.

Unfortunately we often ignore what we have in the rush through everyday life.

One way of combating this is to take photographs of whatever is important to you as a reminder.”

Even just taking ‘mental pictures’ during the experience was enough to help people enjoy it more.

However, the researchers did find that when people were already engaged an experience, taking photos didn’t help.

Also, handling large photographic equipment seemed to stop people enjoy the experience.

Trillions of photos

Given how many photos are taken every day, it seems people are enjoying themselves a lot more.

The authors write:

“…the New York Times estimates that in 2010, people took 0.3 trillion photos worldwide, and this number will reach 1.3 trillion by 2017.

In addition, the number of photos being uploaded on different social media sites every day can provide a lower-bound estimate of the number of photos taken.

For example, Facebook reports that their worldwide users upload two billion pictures daily, and Instagram users upload 80 million photos per day.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Diehl et al., 2016).

The Social Media Break That Reduces Depression And Anxiety (M)

Not only did those giving up social media feel better, they also freed up around 9 hours a week for other activities.

Not only did those giving up social media feel better, they also freed up around 9 hours a week for other activities.

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