Research Examines the Influence of Facebook on Relationships

couple sitting on sofa with laptopsWith its status updates, photo uploads, event invitations, groups, games, messaging, and more, Facebook provides users with several means of social interaction, however virtual they may be. In fact, it is rare these days to befriend someone in the real world without soon becoming that person’s Facebook friend. Naturally, it follows that communications experts are interested in how our interactions on the site influence the intimacy felt between friends and romantic partners.

A recent study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking and conducted by assistant professor Bree McEwan of Western Illinois University (WIU)’s Department of Communication examined the effects of how someone handles their Facebook relationships on the quality of his or her actual friendships. Using a statistical technique called the Actor Partner Interdependence Model (APIM), McEwan analyzed relevant relational data.

Not surprisingly, the results revealed that such actions as liking a friend’s status update or posting on his or her wall to express feelings of love, support, or congratulations boost the closeness and intimacy felt within that relationship.  However, posting mass “broadcast-style” status updates tends to evoke “negative relational outcomes,” especially concerning Facebook friends who aren’t in the habit of posting their own mass status updates.

McEwan reported that overall, Facebook usage itself has little impact on friendships; it’s the way in which we communicate on Facebook that is either beneficial or detrimental to relationships. Most people prefer thoughtful, personalized interactions as opposed to being acknowledged in group updates.  In other words, showing personalized Facebook love leads to increased intimacy, while broadcasting personal business in an impersonal way may hinder feelings of closeness.

A prior study led by assistant professor Christopher Carpenter, also a member of WIU’s Department of Communication, explored the impact of Facebook behavior and interactions on romantic relationships. Published in the July 2013 issue of Computers in Human Behavior, his research showed that those who post and appear in more photos with their partners on Facebook and who tag their partners in status updates tend to experience more closeness and intimacy in their relationships than those who do not. He also discovered that longer lists of interests on people’s profiles corresponded with having multiple past romantic partners.

He explained this last bit by acknowledging that people tend to assume certain personality traits as well as the likes and dislikes of their romantic partners while involved with them, and in many cases, they continue to hold onto these long after breaking up.


  1. Western Illinois University. (2013, April 23). WIU communication professor publishes new study about Facebook and romantic relationships. Press Release. Retrieved from
  2. Western Illinois University. (2014, January 3). WIU faculty member’s new social network study investigates how people use Facebook to maintain friendships. Press Release. Retrieved from

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  • Mick


    January 8th, 2014 at 4:01 AM

    Who would have ever thought that the kind of romantic partner that we are could be dissected by our Facebook musings and likes and dislikes? Oh well, I can see it because there are those who are so transparent via their online activity and who just hang all of their dirty laundry out in the opne to dry and those are definitely the people whom I know to steer clear of. Because I then don’t want to be the next person that they diss!

  • Antoine


    January 8th, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    I kind of would have seen this from a different point of view.

    I sometimes think that people who are always posting pictures and tagging others and posting updates about themselves and others are kind of, well, bragging in a sense and are using Facebook as this kind of superficial thing and are not really in real relationships if that makes any sense.

    It’s hard for me to grasp that just because you are forever posting pictuures of someone or about the things that you do together that you have a closer relationship. I kind of feel like there are some things that are meant to be shared between just the two of you. Is there no value left in privacy anymore?

  • rivers


    January 9th, 2014 at 4:00 AM

    I guess I am one of those people that others love to hate because I am constantly updating pictures, my status, whatever, because I feel like this is the ebst way that I know how to share things with the people I care the most about in my life. If I had a great time out or a good time with a friend then what is wrong with letting everyone else know about it? And if someone else posts something and I want to show a sign of love and support then why not say that or like their status? What is facebook for if not a way to connect and keep close with those that we may not otherwise stay close with? It kind of gets to the point with me that if you hate it so much then why even maintain a profile anymore? Just go onto something that does not bother you as much. Agreed?

  • BR


    January 15th, 2014 at 4:06 AM

    When you spend more time communicating via FB than you do actually talking to one another in person, well, that could be a problem.

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