(WebMD) People who are more socially isolated in real life tend to be more isolated in the virtual world of social networking web sites like Facebook, new research suggests. Facebook users in the study who reported feeling anxiety and fear in their face-to-face relationships spent more time on Facebook than their more socially comfortable peers.
But they also had fewer Facebook friends, Louisiana State University doctoral student Pavica Sheldon reports. The study included 172 Louisiana State students, most of whom were current Facebook users.
"Our results seem to justify the rich-get-richer hypothesis, which states that the Internet primarily benefits extroverted individuals, and that introverts communicate online less often," Sheldon writes in the latest issue of the Journal of Media Psychology.
In the four years since its introduction, Facebook has registered more than 21 million users, most in their teens, 20s, and 30s. Originally developed as a social networking site for college students, it is now open to anyone. But college students still make up the majority of the site's users.
Sheldon and colleagues conducted their research in an effort to better understand how the site is used.
"Most people who don't use Facebook think it is all about developing new relationships, but that is not what we found," Sheldon tells WebMD.
93% of the students who took part in the study reported having a Facebook account, with the average student spending around 45 minutes on the site each day. Among the major findings:
The most often cited reason for using the site was to check up on real-life friends and acquaintances.
Passing the time or avoiding boredom was cited as a major reason for logging on to Facebook, as was staying in touch with friends.
Far fewer people reported using the site as a means for developing romantic relationships, finding companionship, relieving loneliness, or meeting more interesting people than they knew in real life.
Satisfaction or lack of satisfaction with face-to face communications did not predict the number of hours spent on Facebook, the number of solely virtual friends the users in the study had, or how satisfied they were with the site.
But students who expressed an unwillingness to communicate face-to-face had fewer Facebook friends than students who communicated easily.
"College students use Facebook in the same way they use interpersonal communications, primarily to maintain their relationships or pass time when bored," Sheldon and colleagues note.