Are Facebook Users Different?

facebook social networking site

Characteristics of social networking sites

  • It can allow an individual to find others with the same interests such as dates or other social purposes such as hobbies
  • It can maintain pre-existing social connections
  • It can result in even stronger relationships than face-to-face contact because online interactions can generate more self-disclosures and fostered deeper personal questions without offending the other
  • Many online relationships eventually result in real world contact

Most research on Facebook investigates identity presentation and privacy concerns (The dangers of Facebook). Facebook has grown immensely in 2007 and it seems a little different from other social networking sites because it is mainly used to connect with people that were already friends as in face to face contacts. Facebook was not used as a tool to meet new people online but to meet people already known from the real world. Because of this it does not appear that Facebook users are primarily concerned with privacy. Information is provided to get in touch with previously known friends and acquaintances.

There is reason to believe that personality factors influence the use of Facebook. One way of looking at personality is with the Big Five. This divides personality into a series of five dimensional traits.

The first trait, Neuroticism, reflects a person’s tendency to experience psychological distress and high levels of the trait are associated with a sensitivity to threat. Extraversion, the second trait, reflects a person’s tendency to be sociable and able to experience positive emotions. The third factor, Openness to Experience, represents an individual’s willingness to consider alternative approaches, be intellectually curious and enjoy artistic pursuits. Agreeableness, as the fourth factor, is another aspect of interpersonal behavior, reflecting a tendency to be trusting, sympathetic and cooperative. The fifth dimension, Conscientiousness, reflects the degree to which an individual is organized, diligent and scrupulous.

Another important factor in using social networking sites or computers in general is the competency to use these technologies. So this kind of competency is also important to study when researching personality and facebook use.

This research was designed to explore how personality characteristics and competency influenced the ways in which university students utilized Facebook for social purposes.

How was this study done?
Ninety-seven students at a university in Southwestern Ontario participated in the present study. The sample was comprised of 15 men and 82 women, having an average age of 21.69 years. Students were compensated with partial course credit for their participation. Personality questionnaires, facebook use, Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) Competence were all studied in this research.

85% of participants used Facebook and 79% reported spending between 10 and 60 minutes daily on Facebook. Participants with a high score on Extraversion reported membership in significantly more groups on Facebook. Extraversion was not related to the number of facebook friends, time spent online or use of the communicative features of Facebook such as status change. This suggests that they use Facebook as a social tool, they do not use Facebook as an alternative to social activities.

Neuroticism was unrelated to postings of personal information but participants scoring high on neuroticism preferred using the Facebook wall. Those scoring low on neuroticism preferred posting photos on facebook. It is believed that Neuroticism plays a role in information control,
such that those high in the trait of Neuroticism are more likely to control what information is shared. With a Wall posting, an individual has a great deal of time to consider his or her response and is capable of limiting the amount of extraneous information presented as Wall posts are entirely textual and can be deleted afterwards. Photos, on the other hand, may inadvertently convey information about emotional states or geographical location, which may seem threatening to an individual’s well being and may make them too threatening for individuals high in Neuroticism.

Agreeableness and Openness to Experience were unrelated to features of facebook use.

Those high in Computer Mediated Competence spent more time on facebook and checked their own Wall more frequently.

Openness to Experience predicted higher frequency of Facebook activities and lower level of Computer Mediated competence. This discrepancy is puzzling but it may be that those who have high levels of Openness to Experience are more interested in trying new things than they are in trying to figure out how things work. They just start using it and will see what happens.

Personality factors are not as influential as expected on using Social Networking Sites in this case Facebook.

This suggests that personality defined by the Five-Factor approach may be too broad and not be the best way to understand specific Internet behaviors. For example, it may be that other more specific personality characteristics not defined by the Five-Factor Model such as narcissism or other traits such as shyness (e.g., Orr et al., in press) are more influential in activities related to Facebook use. It may also be that motivational factors such as desire for communication, seeking of social support and entertainment value may be more useful in understanding Facebook use than the ones we selected.

What do you think? Why do you use facebook?
C ROSS, E ORR, M SISIC, J ARSENEAULT, M SIMMERING, R ORR (2009). Personality and motivations associated with Facebook use Computers in Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2008.12.024