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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