Inside Anderson Analytics - With Gosia Skorek
Today I’d like to introduce you to one of the newer team members of Anderson Analytics, Gosia Skorek. Gosia has a graduate degree in psychology and is currently helping us with our work in the area of psychological content analysis & text analytics. Along with her impressive academic background at Jacobs University in Bremen and University of California Merced, her previous experience includes working at MindShare Worldwide, a Consumer Insights firm in the UK and Deutche Welle in Germany.
I asked her a couple of questions about Social Networks (SNS) and how it relates to psychology:
Tom: Social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook, MySpace, CyWorld etc. are becoming increasingly popular among various groups of people, not only college students but also professionals. They are designed towards work-related contexts (e.g. LinkedIn), romantic relationships (e.g. Friendster), college student populations (e.g. Facebook) or shared interests (e.g. MySpace or Summitpost). Each of them has several millions of users, many of them visiting their SNSs daily. From a point of view of psychology, what makes them so attractive to us? What are the benefits of using social network sites?
Gosia: First of all, social networking sites let their users establish and maintain friendships and contacts. This feeling of connectedness and belonging is very important for our self-esteem and life satisfaction. Interacting with large numbers of friends can be very helpful in gaining emotional support or simply attention. Psychology research suggests that SNSs may be particularly attractive to people dissatisfied with themselves and their current relationships (Ellison et al., 2007). Also, following a Social Compensation hypothesis (”poor get richer”) users with lower self-esteem, more introvert and less popular in offline communities may strive more to become popular on SNSs to compensate for their offline experiences (Valkenburg et al. 2005). At the same time, however, psychologists suggest that also those more successful in offline social networks may want to enhance relationships using online tools (Social Enhancement hypothesis, Merton 1968).
But more importantly, the SNSs let us present and promote ourselves almost in an unrestricted way. These sites are great venues for self-improvement, where our fantasies of the self can come true with a click of the mouse. I do not mean here creating fake profiles, but only ones of the ‘better selves’ (with more hobbies, better looks, more confidence and more friends than in reality). Amichai-Hamburger and colleagues (2002) suggested that introvert and neurotic people often claim to find the “real me” on SNSs, while extrovert individuals find it in face-to-face interactions.
Moreover, online networking sites give people the illusion of immortality and immunity to the physical and real world. Several physical and social barriers are removed and inter-personal interaction becomes easier and faster. Users are put in the position of more control over the interaction and their appearance, which makes interaction a ’safer’ experience. Gaining confidence in online communication may in some cases get translated into better communication skills in face-to-face encounters.
Another important aspect of SNSs is that they help us figure out where we belong, which sites and groups we want to join and interact with. Especially for adolescent users SNSs might be a useful tool in self-exploration and identity construction. Psychologists suggest that it is relatively easy to develop and present one’s identity using SNSs due to the fact that people are able to “show rather than tell” (Shanyang et al., 2008).
Tom: Sounds like a wide range of possible advantages of using SNSs. Which one would you say is the most important?
Gosia: It is very difficult to say what matters most as it depends on a variety of factors. Whether an individual finds the use of SNSs beneficial may depend on their personality, gender, current mood, self-esteem, and the quality of an offline social network. In different circumstances and for different individuals there would be different benefits.
Tom: What about the other side of the coin. What about risks or disadvantages of using SNSs?
Gosia: Just like the interaction with people offline, online communication can bring negative outcomes like heavy critique from other users, disputes or end of friendships. This in turn may lead to a depressive mood, dissatisfaction with all social connections and a more prevention-oriented behavior in future online or offline interactions.
Yet, sporadic negative input from other users is not the biggest threat of SNSs. Lack of privacy control on most of the online networking sites means that the risk of stalking and even identity theft is high. Users are not really given any tools to protect themselves from these risks. Finally, in extreme cases a potential outcome of an excessive use of SNSs might be too much reliance on these friendships and interactions. Some heavy users might miss out on the face-to-face experiences that train their social skills and eventually lose their ability to function well in a real world without the Internet.
Tom: I see, like with anything, moderation is needed also with the SNSs.
Gosia: Precisely. Yet, overall it seems quite clear that there are more benefits than threats in using SNSs, which explains their huge popularity.