Your Facebook Friends May Be Unintentionally Hurting You Daily

Hindered thought and negative emotions linked to unintended social exclusion on Facebook and other social media sites, according to UB research.  (Image: via   pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
Hindered thought and negative emotions linked to unintended social exclusion on Facebook and other social media sites, according to UB research. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Social media sites often present users with social exclusion information that may actually inhibit intelligent thought, according to the co-author of a University at Buffalo study that takes a critical look not just at Facebook and other similar platforms, but at the peculiarities of the systems on which these sites operate.

The short-term effects of these posts create negative emotions in the users who read them, and may affect thought processes in ways that make users more susceptible to advertising messages. What’s particularly alarming is that the social exclusion present in these posts is not intentional. Users are not callously sharing exclusion information with their friends.

Social media sites, nevertheless, by design make most information available from one friend to another and the consequences resulting from the interpretation of these messages are significant. Michael Stefanone, an associate professor in UB’s Department of Communication and an expert in computer-mediated communication and social networks, said in a statement:

The results of the research with lead author Jessica Covert, a graduate student in UB’s Department of Communication, appear in the journal Social Science Computer Review. Covert said:

At a glance, the posts at the center of the study seem harmless. Users open Facebook to sees exchanges among friends that unintentionally excluded them. It happens all the time. Right? “Yes,” says Stefanone.

The point, says Stefanone, is the messages can be interpreted in a way that people feel left out. And that feeling, as innocuous as it might seem, is not easily dismissed.

It’s at this point that the brain’s self-regulating function should take over, according to Stefanone. That self-regulation quickly moderates the negative feelings that can result from the interpretation, but self-regulation consumes mental resources that inhibit intelligent thought:

For the study, Covert and Stefanone created scenarios designed to mirror typical interactions on Facebook, and 194 individuals participated in an experiment ensuring exposure to social exclusion. The researchers presented one group with a scenario involving two good friends, where one of those friends had shared information that excluded the participant. The other group saw a feed that presented no social exclusion information.

Results indicated that individuals exposed to social exclusion information involving their close friends experienced greater negative emotions than the control group. They also had a tendency to devote more mental resources toward understanding their social networks, making them particularly sensitive to stimuli such as advertising.

Stefanone says plans for the future include replicating the current experiment and then measuring changes in intelligent thought using standardized test questions.

Provided by: Bert Gambini, University at Buffalo [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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