Being insecure about one’s close relationships is associated with using Facebook in problematic ways, according to new research published in BMC Psychology.
“This topic was of interest due to the evolution of social media use and the links between new patterns of Facebook use (e.g. social comparison, impression management) and negative psychological outcomes such as symptoms of depression and low self-esteem,” said study author Sally Flynn of the National University of Ireland Galway.
“We felt that the links between Facebook use and negative psychological outcomes were not explored enough, however, and we were interested in discovering what was motivating people to engage with Facebook in problematic ways. ”
The study was based on attachment theory, which describes how people form relationships with others. People can be secure or insecure in their attachments to others, and insecure individuals can be either anxious or avoidant.
People high in attachment anxiety agree with statements like “I am afraid that I will lose my partner’s love,” while those high in attachment avoidance agree with statements like “I get uncomfortable when my partner wants to be very close.”
The study of 717 adult Facebook users found that attachment anxiety was associated with using Facebook to compare oneself to others, create a false impression of oneself, over-share personal information about oneself, and using the social networking site at the expense of other activities.
Attachment avoidance was predictive of using Facebook to create a false impression of oneself and using the social networking site at the expense of other activities.
The researchers also found that the association between attachment insecurity and these maladaptive Facebook behaviors was stronger among those low self-esteem and high psychological distress.
“It is important to stress that the research does not suggest that there is something damaging about Facebook or other social media services, but rather, some people network online in ways that could be considered maladaptive, exacerbating distress and vulnerability,” Flynn told PsyPost.
“We would hope that as a result of this research, people will become more mindful regarding how they engage with social media platforms such as Facebook, perhaps monitoring how they feel before and after using the site, and if necessary, adapting their use accordingly.”
The study — like all research — has limitations.
“We caution that the cross-sectional nature of the study does not allow for conclusions about cause and effect. The study may also be limited by its use of self-reported data and probability sampling which have the potential to introduce bias to the findings,” Flynn explained.
“While psychological distress and self-esteem provide some explanation of the association between attachment and problematic Facebook use, further studies are needed into a range of additional interpersonal factors relevant to attachment.”
The study, “An exploration of the link between adult attachment and problematic Facebook use“, was authored by Sally Flynn, Chris Noone and Kiran M. Sarma.