I’m curious, as you know, in the interplay between human psychology and social media, so I wanted to share some research with you about social networks and loneliness.
Sparked from this article, this post will deal with being highly socially networked, but still experiencing loneliness.
The research cited is interesting, because it finds that there is a whole group of behaviors (including happiness, smoking, and obesity) which are seen as “contagious” within your social network. This means that the behaviors and attitudes of those in your social network have direct impact on your choices in these areas.
It’s a powerful statement of how influenced we are by those we are closest to.
Loneliness is defined as a perception of social isolation, regardless of how many relationships a person really has. People who have high quality relationships, even if they are few in number, tend to experience less loneliness. John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, has studied how loneliness is transmitted within social networks.
His findings suggest that if a direct connection of yours is lonely, you are 52% more likely to be lonely. If the connection is a friend of a friend, 25% more lonely. If the connection is 3 degrees out (a friend of a friend of a friend), it’s 15%.
While this research looked at offline social networks, it may have some implications for online social networking as well.
If someone in your online social network is angry, lonely, or hostile, and takes it out on you, you are more likely to ‘transmit’ this mood yourself. This means that, even though you may never have met this person, or interacted with them in real life, their “bad behavior” can still influence yours.
As we become increasingly networked and involved with each other, it’s going to be more and more crucial to monitor our own influences and reactions. We are already prone to increased social decision-making with the growth of social media- we might also be more prone to social media moodiness, depending on who we are spending time with and paying attention to within our social networks.
While social media seduction is enticing, it’s important to remember that we need to cultivate real life friendships too. We need to be aware of separating our thoughts and emotions from those we are in contact with, and making sure that our reactions or feelings are truly our own before we engage in behaviors we might regret.
If you find yourself feeling frazzled, hassled, overwhelmed or stressed out by too much social networking, it might be time to turn the computer off.