Researchers from the University of Buffalo have conducted a study on how friends interacting on social media can cause negative emotions in users and possibly limit intelligent thought.
Socially exclusive social media interactions can be two friends posting an inside joke that others don’t understand or two friends publicly making plans without other users on their social profiles, which makes some users feel left out. These interactions really don’t have anything to do with the users, but can still make them feel left out, leading to negative emotions. These negative emotions can affect the users thought processes for hours after they see the social exclusion. Consequently, a user put in a negative headspace is more likely to be vulnerable to advertisements.
"These findings are compelling," said Michael Stefanone, an associate professor in UB's Department of Communication and an expert in computer-mediated communication and social networks. "We're using these technologies daily and they're pushing information to users about their networks, which is what the sites are designed to do, but in the end there's negative effect on people's well-being."
"These findings are not only significant because we are talking about individuals' emotions here, but it also raises questions about how exposure to these interactions affect one's day-to-day functioning," said Jessica Covert, a graduate student in UB's Department of Communication. "Offline research suggests that social exclusion evokes various physical and psychological consequences such as reduced complex cognitive thought."
Facebook users were the focus of this study as they are often under the impression that the posts they are reading don't affect them or their moods. But this study has proven otherwise, suggesting that reading a conversation that doesn’t involve them negatively affects their mental health, leading to feelings like FOMO, or fear of missing out.
"Social exclusion, even something that might seem trivial, is one of the most powerful sanctions people can use on others and it can have damaging psychological effects," says Stefanone. "When users see these exclusion signals from friends — who haven't really excluded them, but interpret it that way — they start to feel badly."
During the study, the team created scenarios that matched a typical interaction on Facebook. The study split 194 participants into two groups. One group was shown a feed of Facebook posts that included some social exclusion posts. The second group was shown a Facebook feed that didn’t have any social exclusion posts.
The results of the study suggest that social exclusion can negatively affect a user’s mental state. The group that saw social exclusion posts had more negative emotions than the control group. The affected group was shown to devote more mental resources to social networks than the control group and were more sensitive to advertising after viewing the social exclusion posts. Social media companies want to cash in on our lowered inhibitions.
"I think the most important thing we all have to remember is to think carefully about our relationship with these corporations and these social networking platforms," says Stefanone. "They do not have our best interests in mind."
The research is published in Social Science Computer Review.