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What your Facebook profile says about your relationships

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A study co-authored by psychologists in Turkey, Australia and the US draws a link between the way we manage our social media presence and the way we interact and form relationships in the real world.

The research carried out by Gillath, Karantzas and Selcuk dissects the different patterns in social network management and uses attachment theory to explain them.

But what is attachment theory?

In a few words, this model developed by John Bowlby in the 1960s refers to the unique and personal connection we have with someone.

Our relationship style can be a connection of security or one of insecurity, avoidance and anxiety, explains Gillath.

Someone with a high insecurity attachment level is often unable to trust people while someone with high avoidance finds intimacy challenging. An anxious type, on the other hand, would live in fear of rejection and abandonment.

While it was known that attachment theory is central to the way we form relationships, the study offered a surprising finding: it also plays a role in how we manage our social media relationships.

So how did they figure it out?

By carrying out different studies the team were able to identify the participants' attachment style and then benchmark their online friend circles based on two attributes: network tie strength and multiplexity.

Gillath explains that tie strength can be "how intimate they feel with people in their network" or "how frequently they interact with these people".

The latter, multiplexity, refers to how many positions a member of your network occupies (friend, colleague, gym buddy etc.). The more they fill, the higher your multiplexity score, and "the higher the tie strength and multiplexity, the more benefits one gains from [one's] network."

They then looked into whether network tie strength and multiplexity depend on how you manage your online network, e.g. how frequently you DM, retweet, like, follow, etc.

Participants were asked how many friends they have and how close they were with them, since this wasn't something you could find out at first glance.

What did their results show?

People with either attachment avoidance and anxiety showed a weaker tie strength and lower multiplexity.

High attachment avoidance leads to reduced chances of "friending" new people or messaging them but higher chances of unfriending them.

High anxiety leads to high chances of ending up unfriended. By getting stressed about dissolving their ties and losing people, "anxiously attached people may end up pushing members away." said Gillath.

What does this tell us?

You can predict someone's personality based only on their social media profile because the way you relate to your friends in real life is a very strong indicator of how you act online.

Even though your attachment type is formed early on while you interact with your parents, it is possible to coach people into being more "secure-like" in both virtual and real-life scenarios by evoking the feeling of comfort and security through pictures and words.

Given these circumstances, there is hope even for the most anxious and aloof of us to re-shape our attachment type, if we set our mind on doing it.

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