And thus science decreed, thou must create equivalent groups.
The conclusions that can be drawn in a new study about the effects of facebook are limited, if not erroneousness because the task given the second test group do not allow for meaningful analysis.
A recent study by Cornell’s Gonzales and Hancock published in a cyberpsychology and social networking (?!) journal asserts that using facebook can increase self-esteem as it allows users to stylize their social identity. While I don’t dispute that facebook might increase positive feelings about the self (and fuel narcissism), I do not think that the research methods used in their study allow us to draw that conclusion.
The researchers compared the self-esteem scores reported by three groups, after they each completed a different “self-focused” task. Group 1 was the control and their task was to stare at a blank screen. Group 2 was a test group and did the self-focused task of staring at a mirror. Group 3 surfed their facebook page and associated pages. Each group did completed the assigned task for three minutes and then completed the self-esteem measure.
The test groups in this study should all have had the same end goals, namely the ability to shape one’s persona. While looking in a mirror is a self-focused activity, it is not an engaging or active self-focused activity like updating ones profile, looking at pictures of the self and friends, or pursuing passions’ fanpages. I think a more comparable self-focused activities should have been used as a test groups. For instance, having respondents write a description of their personality and interests, as if describing themselves to a new friend. Related to the mirror idea, another test group could apply make-up or style their hair in front of a mirror prior to taking the self-esteem survey. Similar to the facebook group, I think the other test groups tasks should all feature the ability to actively preen one’s social appearance – physical and personality.
By comparing the self-esteem scores of these two test groups and the facebook group, we can see if facebook creates the change in self-esteem, or if it ability to choose how one is represented in the social sphere that increases self-esteem.
Only once equivalent groups are created can we start to analyze and understand how social network usage affects users’ psyches.
I must note here that I haven’t read the paper, but if anyone wants to forward, I will gladly read.
Look at the following the links for summaries more info about this research:
Our Facebook wall boosts self-esteem, study finds – Cornell Chronicle
This is Your Brain on Facebook – Fast Company
Facebook makes you “Like” yourself better – PSFK