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The Science of Facebook
  • May 16, 2012 : 12:05
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Whether you welcome our new way of socializing with open arms or find yourself cursing under your breath every time you have to un-tag yourself in an unattractive whisky-induced photo from a recent trip, it’s indisputable that Facebook is our overlord. With its hefty IPO boost of 25%, along with GM dropping its $10 million advertising campaign, believing it created little to no impact on its target consumers, it is incredible how much money is being thrown around in this virtual hangout. Thenextweb.com estimates the average Facebook user to be worth approximately $121 to the conglomerates who are itching to have their advertising pop up on your newsfeed.

Yes, your inebriated musings, the photo gallery of 102 photos of your dog swimming in a pool, the heartfelt open letter to friends you wrote after you broke up with your college sweetheart are all apparently worth $121.  With users spending a collective 700 billion minutes a month on Facebook, it’s no surprise that this interaction is being closely scrutinized and studied by researchers who aim to expose how this site is altering our social lives, personalities and reactions to social norms. Not only are researchers finding unanticipated effects of long-term use of the site, studies have also exposed interesting patterns occurring in profiles.

So how exactly has Facebook changed us? 

More Online Friends, More Brain Cells

While you may think that having a high friend count on Facebook would be a red flag for desolate individuals who feel inadequate with their number of real-life acquaintances, a study conducted at University College London found that users with the highest number of online contacts have more gray matter in brain regions associated with social skills. Lead professor Geraint Rees agrees that in our modern world, “social networks are ubiquitous in human society,” and with that acceptance comes an interesting query. “In contemporary societies with online social networks, do people use them (social skills) in the same way or are they enabling a completely different type of communication and interaction that was never before possible?” To further research this question, his team carried out MRI scans on 165 male and female subjects who answered questions about how many friends they had on Facebook and in real life. The study found that subjects with a higher online friend count also had greater gray matter density in three separate brain regions: the superior temporal sulcus and the middle temporal gyrus, two brain regions which have in the past been linked to the ability to perceive social cues from facial expressions, and the entorhinal cortex, a region linked to memory of face recognition and names.

While his findings are interesting, at this point it is impossible to tell if the gray matter is actually related to a different kind of social skill. "The interesting question left unanswered is whether this is set in stone and those bits of your brain are hard-wired and determined by your genes, or whether if you bring people up in the right kind of social environment, those bits of the brain grow and therefore the number of people they can maintain as friends in adulthood increases." This study is one of many that intend to open the floodgates for future research into how exactly this new way of interaction is changing our minds, and hope to introduce enough interesting findings for further research to elaborate on.

Women Who Base Their Self-Worth on Appearance Have More Friends and Photo Galleries

We all know at least a few women who are serial Facebook frienders. This woman is probably also the one who wakes up the morning after a party to plug in her camera and upload any photos she hadn’t posted the previous night and has them tagged and liked, all before you even dream of dragging yourself out of bed to shower. According to a new study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, researcher Michael A. Stefanone found that there is indeed a reason why some women act this way on Facebook: it’s because they base their self-worth on their appearance. In a study conducted to measure 311 participants’ (both male and female) online behaviors and self-esteem, researchers found that “those whose self-esteem is based on public-based contingencies (defined here as others' approval, physical appearance and outdoing others in competition) were more involved in online photo sharing, and those whose self-worth is most contingent on appearance have a higher intensity of online photo sharing.” While it may sound very dated to say that women base their self-esteem on how others perceive them, head researcher Stefanone was also discouraged. "It is disappointing to me that in the year 2011 so many young women continue to assert their self-worth via their physical appearance — in this case, by posting photos of themselves on Facebook as a form of advertisement. Perhaps this reflects the distorted value pegged to women's looks throughout the popular culture and in reality programming from 'The Bachelor' to 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians.'"

Your Facebook Photo Predicts Your Happiness

It may make you feel self-demeaning to go back and check this theory for yourself, but a recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science shows that the smile intensity from a single profile picture today can predict how satisfied that person will be with their life four years into the future. Through two studies, psychologists found that men and women who smiled with the most intensity in their profile photos during their first semester at college later testified to being more satisfied with their lives than those who did not smile. The same students with the most intense smiles reported high levels of satisfaction during their last semester of college a whole 3.5 years later.  The cowriters believe these findings are for the most part remarkable since the findings are based on informal photos, as opposed to earlier research conducted with formal portraits from, say, college yearbooks.  The psychologists believe that this research is “a sizable — and long overdue — step forward in the quest to understand whether and why affective displays in publicly shared photographs can predict future well-being.” While the correlation between one’s smile and the outcome of one’s life is still unclear, researchers believe that it’s likely that the natural smile on Facebook signals a person’s personality traits in real life. 

read more: News, facebook

2 comments

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    There's a lot more to this than I originally thought!
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