GOOD

Social Networks Can Help Fight Social Anxiety

Anxious people are more likely to post on social media sites.

Photo by Dean Drobot/Shutterstock.

Ever since online social networks were created, people have wondered why they’re popular and how they affect users. Researchers, practitioners, and social commentators have expressed concern that they reduce more meaningful face-to-face interaction, leaving users depressed and lonely. However, new research that I have conducted together with marketing professor Jonah Berger suggests that social networks’ dissimilarities to more traditional communication methods can actually help some people connect better.


Proponents have long touted social networks’ ability to connect distant friends and relatives. When a user posts a tweet or a Facebook status update, it is visible to a group of people, whether that is all of a user’s contacts or some subset, such as fellow alumni of a school or residents of a particular neighborhood.

Our research shows that the quasi-personal nature of these kinds of posts — which are written for people who know the writer and can respond but which at the same time are shared more widely — can make connecting with others less threatening for people who experience social anxiety.

How microblogs can aid communication

People feel a need for social interaction, especially when they feel sad, stressed, or troubled. Connecting with friends or family can help soothe negative feelings. But for some people, reaching out in person can feel daunting. People who are anxious about social interactions might wonder, “What if they don’t want to talk to me?” or “What if I’m bothering them?”

In our research, we found that sharing via tweets or Facebook posts — more broadly called “microblogging” — can alleviate these concerns. This method of communication, unique to social media, allows people to reach out to a large audience without having to direct their message to any one person who might be annoyed or busy. As a result, the person posting may have reduced anxiety about initiating social interaction.

Accordingly, we found that people who felt apprehensive or anxious about social interaction were actually more likely to post or tweet on social media sites. In one experiment, half the participants were asked to write about a time they were at a party and felt anxious about interacting with others. The other half were asked to write about a neutral topic.

We then gave participants the opportunity to use their favorite social network for a few minutes, and afterward, we asked what they did while online. People who had written about their social anxiety were more likely to microblog (tweet or post a status update) than those who had written about a neutral topic.

Diving deeper into the results

Our follow-up studies show that while experiencing social apprehension or anxiety increases microblogging, it decreases face-to-face sharing. Indeed, when we asked people about how they preferred to communicate with others, the ones prone to experience social anxiety were more likely to choose microblogging over reaching out face-to-face.

But microblogging is not the only way social networks let users connect with friends and relatives. Users can also send direct messages, which again do not require in-person interaction. However, unlike microblogs, they are usually directed at an individual rather than a wider friend group. When we explored people’s interest in reaching out via direct message, we learned that experiencing social apprehension does not increase direct messaging and that the effect of social apprehension on sharing was unique to posting status updates or tweeting.

This finding tells us that the undirected nature of microblogs is key for socially anxious people, allowing them a new way to reach out to friends when they might not feel comfortable doing so otherwise.

Sharing via microblogging can increase well-being

Then we wondered: If some people feel more comfortable posting on social networks than they do when directly interacting with friends and family members, might their way of using microblogging be a way to help them feel better? Preliminary evidence from our research suggests that writing to others who might respond — such as posting on online social networks — can help people who are upset feel better.

In a laboratory study, we induced negative emotions by having participants take a brief multiple-choice test and telling them they had not performed very well, regardless of how well they actually performed. Then we split the participants into four groups and asked each to write something. One group was asked to write about office products to serve as a neutral baseline comparison group. Members of the other three groups were asked to write about their emotions: One group’s members were told their writing would be private. One group was told what they wrote would be shared with someone who would not be able to respond. The last group was told their writing would be shared with someone who could respond.

After this writing exercise, we measured each participant’s well-being by asking them about how good, happy, and relaxed they felt. The results showed that writing to someone who might respond helped people heal their negative feelings; members of that group reported greater well-being. This healing did not result from writing in general, writing privately about emotions, or even telling someone else about their feelings.

The potential for someone to respond made people feel better — even if nobody actually did reply. Our research did not identify exactly why the benefit occurred without receiving an actual response, but it could be related to others’ findings that anticipating the potential of something occurring can be particularly appealing.

The ConversationThis highlights the different ways that social networks can offer people unique and valuable communications options that don’t exist offline or in other online environments.

Articles
via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet