How do social relationships function online

online friendship

Online sources may provide a starting point to navigate friendships. Initiating an online friendship might seem less risky and easier to initiate. Attachment style impacts friendship differently when individuals relate to online or offline contexts.

Attachment theory: Early interactions between child and primary caregiver allow the child to maintain close proximity to the primary caregiver, and to seek food and warmth from their caregiver.These early interactions of the child and caregiver allow the child to develop an internal working model of the world. In turn, these internal working models guide the child’s thoughts, behaviours, and affect, and permit the infant to have a set of expectations of how others will behave and react; essentially, how a relationship functions.

Attachment style can be organized into four categories

  • Secure attachment style has a positive view of themselves and of others, and therefore, feels worthy of others’ love and support, views others as responsive and accepting and is comfortable with intimacy and closeness
  • Preoccupied attachment style has a negative view of themselves but a positive view of others, which leads to a sense of personal unworthiness with respect to love and support, but a sense that others are responsive and accepting. As a result, this individual strongly depends on others’ acceptance to feel positively about him/herself.To achieve self-acceptance, this individual would try to gain the
    acceptance of others and this would most probably be evidenced through seeking excessive closeness
  • Fearful attachment style is distinguished by both a negative view of the self and a negative view of others. This style is similar to the preoccupied attachment style in feelings of unworthiness of love and support, however the fearful attachment style also leads to the belief that others are rejecting and untrustworthy. As a result, a fearful individual avoids relationships with the goal of protecting the self, as s/he typically feels s/he will eventually be disappointed by the relationship
  • Dismissing attachment style is characterized by a positive view of the self and a negative view of others, leading this individual to dismiss the importance of relationships and try to remain independent

These findings with ‘‘face-to face”/‘‘offline” friendship underscore the important contribution of attachment style to friendship relationships. The current study explores whether these findings transfer to an ‘‘online” context. Online social exchanges occur through many diverse outlets, including, blogs, chat rooms emails, networking, gaming, personal profile sites

Are these online friendships an alternative for experiencing positive, beneficial relationships that are meaningful, close and long lasting?
How many offline and online friends does an adolescent have and how often do adolescents use online venues to initiate friendships and what is the role of the attachment theory in adolescents’ evaluations of their online and offline friendships?

Adolescents with secure attachment styles have more friends than those with fearful or preoccupied attachments and most of them were offline friendships. Seeking new friendships online (presently and in the past) did not did not differ by attachment style.
Secure, Dismissing and Preoccupied groups, there was significantly more self disclosure with offline friends than online friends. In the Fearful group, however, there was no significant difference in the level of self-disclosure within the online and offline friendships. Results indicated that Secure, Dismissing and Fearful participants reported significantly greater satisfaction with their offline than online friendships

Attachment style alone provides a fairly limited impact on friendship assessment, however, it does play a critical role in friendship assessment, when the context of the friendship is examined. It is of influence as far as online or offline friendships are concerned.

The youth presently still depend more on offline friendships than online friendships. The attachment style alone provides a fairly limited impact on friendship assessment. Attachment style does play a role in friendship assessment when the context of friendship is examined.

Specifically, in a number of cases, attachment style impacts friendship differently when individuals relate to online or offline contexts.In particular, individuals with fearful and preoccupied attachment styles experienced friendships differently, and more negatively, than their peers for contexts where they meet face-to-face with their friends.

Why is this important?

These findings suggest that online sources may provide a starting point to navigate friendships this seem less risky and easier to initiate. Internet communication provides them less socially skilled with opportunities to express themselves.

What are your experiences with online relationships?
V BUOTE, E WOOD, M PRATT (2009). Exploring similarities and differences between online and offline friendships: The role of attachment style Computers in Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2008.12.022