Why do people use social media? Striving to answer this question, social psychologists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum have conducted a survey with more than 500 Facebook users with regard to their personality structure and the way they use the platform. Based on the results, they have developed the first comprehensive theory of social media usage. According to that theory, self-regulation is the key: we use Facebook in a way that makes us feel good and hope to attain our objectives.
The research team manned by Phillip Ozimek, Fiona Baer and Prof Dr Jens Förster published their report in the journal Heliyon on November 20, 2017.
In an online survey completed by 531 people, the researchers asked how often and in what way the participants use Facebook: do they post photos? Do they comment? How many friends do they have and how do they regard those friends? Moreover, they identified certain personality traits, i.e. the participants' values and life goals.
"The aspect that interested us most was the correlation between materialism and Facebook usage," explains Phillip Ozimek. It emerged that people with strong materialistic values, namely those whose life goals revolve around amassing and increasing capital, use Facebook more frequently and engage more deeply with it than others. They objectify their Facebook friends and gain much more from them than users whose life goals are not characterised by materialistic concerns to the same extent. "On Facebook, a materialism 2.0 of sorts is taking place," says the psychologist. "The platform makes it very easy to compare yourself to others, which is why it strongly attracts materialistic people for whom such comparisons are important. Plus, Facebook is free of charge. Materialists love that."
Having analysed older studies that focused on other personality traits in conjunction with the usage of social media, the research team developed the Social Online Self-Regulation Theory, SOS-T for short. "We assume that self-regulation is what makes people use social media - or not use them, and that it also determines in what way they are used," explains Phillip Ozimek. "People use social media as a tool for achieving their goals and to feel good. It remains unclear, however, if this approach is working or not."
Neutral attitude towards social media
The researchers are hoping their theory will pave the way for a neutral attitude toward social media. "The platforms themselves are neither inherently good nor bad, they're merely a tool. The users use them in a way that reflects their values and goals in life," explains Ozimek.
Phillip Ozimek, Fiona Baer, Jens Förster: Materialists on Facebook: The Self-Regulatory Role of Social Comparisons and the Objectification of Facebook friends, in: Heliyon, 2017, DOI: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2017.e00449, http://www.