It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Researchers at University College London… showed that the more Facebook friends a person has, the more ‘real-world’ friends they are likely to have.” (“Number of Facebook Friends Linked to Size of Brain Regions” ; Sciencedaily.com 10/26/2011)
This might seem so obvious it doesn’t even count as research. That was my first thought. But then I remembered that conversation I had with a social psychologist and the author of the book Loneliness, John Cacioppo, in which he told me that often the loneliest people are the ones with 2,000 Facebook friends. They hide behind the computer, he said, caught up in their virtual life at the expense of going out into the world and connecting with people.
I’m curious, also, how these researchers qualified “real-world friends.” What was the criteria? As I mentioned yesterday, I think there should be a litmus test here. Because, to me, a lot of Facebook friends means you know a lot of people. Not necessarily that you’re friends with a lot of them.
Wait a minute, I just found that information. (Amazing what happens when you read to the end of an article.) “The UCL researchers asked their volunteers questions such as ‘How many people would send a text message to you marking a celebratory event (e.g. birthday, new job, etc.)?’, ‘What is the total number of friends in your phonebook?’ and ‘How many friends have you kept from school and university that you could have a friendly conversation with now?’ The responses suggest that the size of their online networks also related to the size of their real world networks.”
I think those are decent markers of friendship, though I could have a friendly conversation with plenty of people who don’t qualify as friends.
The takeaway from their research, the study authors say, is to that “most Facebook users use the site to support their existing social relationships, maintaining or reinforcing these friendships, rather than just creating networks of entirely new, virtual friends.”
True, but I think Cacioppo has a point too. Some users use the site to appear connected to a thousand people they’ve met only once or twice, thereby masking loneliness.
So here’s my assertion: Having more real-life friends will certainly mean you have more Facebook friends. But the opposite is not necessarily true–having more Facebook friends doesn’t necessarily mean you have more real-life friends.
Do you agree with my oh-so-scientific analysis?