Insecure adults use Facebook in ‘problematic ways’

NUIG study finds adults with low self-esteem use social media to fulfil attachment needs

Adults who have low self-esteem or high levels of psychological distress may seek to use the social media platform to fulfil attachment needs. Photograph: iStock

Adults who have low self-esteem or high levels of psychological distress may seek to use the social media platform to fulfil attachment needs. Photograph: iStock

 

Social media issues know no generational boundaries. Adults with high levels of insecurity may also engage with Facebook in “problematic ways”, a study by NUI Galway psychologists has found.

The study by researchers at NUIG’s school of psychology found that adults who have low self-esteem or high levels of psychological distress may seek to use the social media platform to fulfil attachment needs.

However, the benefits are “short lived” and can further exacerbate negative feelings, the study has found.

The research, published in the journal BMC Psychology on Friday, investigated possible links between problematic Facebook use and “attachment avoidance”, as in avoiding intimacy and closeness in personal relationships, and “attachment anxiety”, as in fearing rejection and being overly dependent in personal relationships.

They defined “problematic patterns” of Facebook use as compulsively looking at others’ photos, over-sharing personal information and impression management, where photo filters were used to present a positive self-image.

The researchers asked more than 700 adult Facebook users to complete a series of online questionnaires, designed to measure depression, self-esteem, attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety.

Social comparison

The findings indicated that those people with high levels of “attachment anxiety” were more likely to engage in social comparison and impression management, and were more likely to disclose personal information on the platform when in a heightened emotional state.

Those participants were also more likely to use the site “intrusively” to the extent that it affected their sleep, work/ study, and social relationships.

The authors say that those people with high levels of “attachment avoidance” were more likely to engage in impression management, and also had a greater tendency to use the site intrusively “to the detriment of their offline social relationships”.

Lead author of the study Dr Sally Flynn said it was the first such research to apply attachment theory to gain a better insight into why people might engage with Facebook in problematic ways.

“Our findings suggest that Facebook may be used by some to fulfil fundamental attachment needs, especially for those with low self-esteem, who are experiencing psychological distress,” she said.

“Professionals involved in providing psychological and psychotherapeutic support may need to consider that for some users, specific patterns of Facebook use may be maintaining or even exacerbating negative psychological outcomes, such as low mood and depression,” she added.

This would emphasise the need to provide “appropriate support and adapting therapeutic interventions”, she said.

NUIG senior psychology lecturer Dr Kiran Sarma said it was “important to stress that the research does not suggest that there is something damaging about Facebook or other social media services, but rather, some people network online in ways that could be considered maladaptive, increasing distress and vulnerability.”

While the findings “resonate with a growing body of scientific evidence on problematic internet use”, further research is needed in this “important area”, Dr Sarma added.