Does Facebook Increase Social Support in Emerging Adults?

Social support is crucial for the development of autonomy and self-esteem. Individuals rely on social support during the transition from adolescence to adulthood, particularly if they do not have a strong support system in their own families. Facebook has become the predominant social networking site used by young adults and has exponentially increased the number of “friends” an individual has. Strong social support has been linked to increases in well-being, and a lack of a supportive social framework often predicts negative psychological health and the onset of depression and other mood problems. However, understanding how these audiences of friends, both private and public, affect the development of self-esteem by way of social support has yet to be fully explored. Because this phenomenon has drastically changed the social evolution of the current generation of young adults, Adriana M. Manago of the Department of Psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles wanted to examine this dynamic more closely. In particular, Manago was curious to find out how the social networks developed on Facebook impacted intimacy and overall well-being in this segment of the population.

For her study, Manago surveyed 88 college students who used Facebook as their primary social network. She found that the participants had an average of 440 “friends,” with approximately 80 being listed as close friends. This suggests that as an individual’s network of superficial friends expands, the number of intimate relationships with these friends also increases. Participants reported high levels of self-disclosure, a key element of intimacy, even with superficial friends. This finding demonstrates that individuals who use Facebook are able to transform casual relationships into more intimate ones through networking and sharing. Although this can enhance an individual’s sense of social support, experts also believe this can encourage the need for public acceptance and exacerbate narcissistic behaviors. For example, some Facebook users may only derive increases in self-esteem and social support when they showcase their feelings to an audience, rather than increasing well-being by sharing privately with friends they deem to be intimate.

Manago believes these findings add to the existing evidence supporting the social benefits of Facebook. However, she thinks that further research is essential. “For stronger inferences concerning social change, a future investigation could study these patterns over chronological time, assuming that communication technologies continue to expand and develop.” Manago added, “The prediction would be that network size would keep growing, that proportion of superficial relations would increase, and that the importance of self-expression to an audience would continue to grow.”

Manago, A. M., Taylor, T., Greenfield, P. M. (2012, January 30). Me and My 400 Friends: The Anatomy of College Students’ Facebook Networks, Their Communication Patterns, and Well-Being. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026338

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  • Ginger


    February 9th, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    Yes! I would be lost without my facebook friends!

  • kimberley


    February 10th, 2012 at 5:21 AM

    I know that most think that facebook is this great support system, but I think otherwise. People on facebook are going to be just as catty and cliquey as other friend groups, and can make you feel just as excluded as other social groups and settings.

    With that being said I suppose that the friendships that you can forge online can turn into something real but I think that they stiull ring of a little falsehood that can never replace a real lasting relationship with someone that you have face to face.

  • Kaye


    February 11th, 2012 at 6:45 AM

    If you are looking for some friends to share with then what is wrong with an online site like facebook? You can reconnect with people from your past and meet new friends. And if it is providing you with some support that you do not otherwise feel like you are getting out of life then why would someone have to llok at that as a bad thing?

  • Heath


    February 13th, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    The youngsters today and their friendships are very different from what it was a generation or two ago. The means of keeping in touch have increased but the depth of friendship has been on the decline in general. We are amassing hundreds of friends but how many of them really are? These are questions we need to ask ourselves and see of we are true to our friendships.

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