Facebook activity may reflect more than one's social life but also mental health, according to a recent study conducted by a MU doctoral student.
The study began when Elizabeth Martin discussed why a person would opt not to participate in social media and use content on Facebook pages with another graduate student, Drew Bailey, who does not have a Facebook account.
Martin and Bailey coauthored a study on social networks and schizotypy, or personality disorders. The study says the way people interact on social media sites is an indicator of personality and psychological well-being.
The study focused specifically on the correlation between Facebook and schizotypy.
“Schizotypy encompasses a range of personality characteristics,” Martin said. “Some people who endorse symptoms of schizotypy report decreased pleasure from social situations and others report odd beliefs.”
Social anhedonia — the reduced ability to find pleasure in social interactions — is one aspect of schizotypy, she said. Variables like a decrease in number of friends and number of photos and an increase in length of time since communication with a friend indicate social anhedonia, according to an MU News Bureau news release.
“Social anhedonia, one aspect of schizotypy, was also associated with an increase in profile length,” Martin said. “Odd beliefs, another aspect of schizotypy, and paranoia were associated with the increased amount of information black-outs.”
Students in introduction to psychology courses volunteered to participate in the study online, Martin said.
Participants answered questionnaires about their personalities and then researchers printed out parts of their Facebook profiles. Participants were then given the opportunity to “black out” any of their own information. Researchers coded the information and compared it to the information that was given in participants’ personality profiles.
Facebook could also potentially serve as a source of information for therapists and counselors whose clients self-report, according to the study. Self-reporting can be an issue because a person’s recollection of experiences can be different depending on the time, said Dr. Christy Hutton, MU Counseling Center Outreach and Communications coordinator.
“A person may feel comfortable sharing some aspects of their life while being uncomfortable sharing others,” Hutton said. “Stigma around mental illness may also cause a person to feel reluctant about sharing everything they are experiencing.”
Hutton doubts she will use Facebook to diagnose clients, because it is important for the student to make decisions about what they are willing to share with a counselor, she said.
“If I am checking up on them via Facebook, that takes some control away from the client,” Hutton said. “At the same time, I do believe Facebook is an excellent tool for friends and family to be able to recognize changes in behavior that may indicate an emotional crisis or thoughts of suicide.”
MU senior Lakeisha Gilcrease said Facebook doesn’t always show who people really are.
“Some people collect friends but don’t actually talk to them,” Gilcrease said. “It could be a true judgment of who someone is, but not all the time.”
Martin said the study is the first step in using information from social networks to potentially give psychologists a more complete clinical picture.
“This could possibly aid in treatment in the future,” she said. “I think it is likely that social networking information could be related to many different aspects of personality, whether they are related to psychopathology or not.”