What Can Psychology Tell Us About Why People Go To Facebook?

If you ask someone why they go on Facebook, you should get a lot of different responses. Some will say “I want to stay in touch with friends” or say: “I go just for fun”. But are those the real reasons why people visit Facebook? After all, some people (most?) can’t explain exactly why they did a particular thing. What are the real reasons why people use this social networking site?  My plan is to explore this exact question below.

We’ll explore several studies which are mostly surveys asking students various questions on what they do on Facebook. Some responses are obvious but some are very, very interesting. Let’s get started.

Facebook and the Need to Belong

Facebook allows you to do several things, among others:

  • Get into a group with people with common interests
  • Express yourself on your wall post/on a group/page

Psychologists often say that people are social animals and have a ‘feeling to belong’ in a community. Things like groups allow you to get some of that feeling by joining. That’s probably the reason why groups/pages are so popular on Facebook.

Another need (mentioned by Tony Schwarz as one of our core needs and also in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) is the need for self-expression. Facebook allows us to do just that almost everywhere on the site. We can ‘like’ things and comment on almost everything (pictures, status updates, other comments, group and page discussions etc).

Is Facebook Feeding Narcissism?

There was one small study that showed narcissists tend to be more active on Facebook. The mainstream media (like they do most of the time) mis-interpreted this and made headlines like “Facebook users are narcissistic” etc.

After that there was some excellent criticism on why this study is not valid at all. First and foremost, correlation does not imply causation and also the sample size was too small. Unfortunately this didn’t get mentioned as much in the mainstream media as the original study.

Reducing Stress is the Second Reason Students Use Facebook?

One interesting survey of 7,738 students in Thailand discovered that the second reason why people used Facebook was to “reduce stress” and said this is probably one of the most common reason why people in general use Facebook.

There are several problems with this study, the biggest one being the fact that most of the survey respondents were students. If you’ve ever been a student, you know that stress IS PRESENT: anticipation for grades, preparing for tests, dealing with professors etc. So students have a WAY bigger chance to have stress than other age groups. So while we can say that students use Facebook as a way of reducing stress, we can’t say that people in general use Facebook for this purpose. Also, people from different parts of the world may have different reasons for being on this social media site, more on that later.

Is there an actual Valid Study of Why People Use Facebook?

Adam N. Joinson from the University of Bath released a study (PDF) on the motives of using Facebook. He discovered that one of the main reasons for using this site was reconnecting/keeping in touch with friends. Nothing surprising here. But what happens AFTER that? How do people use the site AFTER they find their friends on Facebook? The study suggests that they then do 4 main activities:

  • Use apps to interact with their network of friends
  • See their friends’ friends profiles wanting to learn more about those people
  • Join groups to express their identity
  • Read news/ keep with other peoples actions

(mentions on why people are on Facebook)

Another survey of 2000 students (mentioned in the study, the PDF link is above) found that the primary reason why students use Facebook was for ‘social searching’ – learn more online about a person they’ve met offline. The surprising thing (at least for me) was that not many people were using Facebook to meet offline someone they’ve just met online.

Another reason why people used Facebook was to track their friend’s activities/updates. That means, track the activities/updates of a larger group where they belong to.

Different Locations = Different Motivations?

Be aware than the above and most of the studies being done on why people use Facebook are for the United States. I’ve cited the Thailand survey to illustrate it’s very likely that people from different locations are having different motivations for using Facebook.

So, what do you think? Feel free to comment below.

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