Facebook can contribute to lower relationship satisfaction, study finds
University of Manitoba study found lower satisfaction, commitment after exposure to fake profiles
People in a relationship may want to log off of Facebook this Valentine's Day weekend after a new study found the social network can contribute to feeling less satisfied with your partner.
The University of Manitoba study found people felt worse about their relationships after seeing positive Facebook posts and photos from a fictional couple.
On a seven point scale, participants rated themselves a half a point less satisfied with their partners and almost a full point less committed to them after viewing positive posts from another couple.
Lead researcher and psychology professor Marian Morry presented her findings last month at a San Diego conference and is currently working on submitting them to a journal.
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"One of the big differences between Facebook and just general social comparisons, is that we end up being exposed to a lot more of those upward social comparisons," said Morry, explaining that an "upward" comparison, is when you compare your relationship to another relationship that seems to be doing better.
She's done a lot of research on these comparisons — when couples hear about or see other couples who seem to be doing better or worse than they are.
What she's found is people who are frequently exposed to couples who appear to be doing well are less committed to their partners and less satisfied with them — leading them to look elsewhere more often.
That problem is exacerbated on social networks, just because of the sheer volume of available comparisons.
"In the real world, you actually need your friends to tell you they've just had a disagreement or their partner just did something really positively, whereas on Facebook, all those photos are right there ... [and] people post pictures and comments about all the positive events," she said. "They're not likely to show a picture of being angry at each other."
Morry's study had university students rate their relationships based on exposure to different Facebook profiles.
The researchers created a fictional couple called Hannah and Ryan, and adjusted their posts and photos slightly to show "consideration" for the other person.
In the "upward comparison" example, Hannah and Ryan have a lot of photos together and when a friend asks Ryan if he wants a ride to class, he says Hannah will have to come too.
In the other example, their photos are with mutual friends and Ryan responds to the ride offer saying he'll let Hannah know she has to find another way to get to class.
The differences run both ways (sometimes Hannah is the inconsiderate one) and are subtle.
When people saw happy Hannah and Ryan, they rated their satisfaction and commitment to their own relationships substantially lower.
"Hannah and Ryan are complete strangers, and they're having this effect on people's relationship," said Morry. "If it's someone closer, we tend to react more strongly to the information."
Not only that, but if you're exposed to posts about happy couples constantly, it could compound negative feelings.
"If you're exposed to a lot of this upward comparison on Facebook, you could start feeling quite negative about your own relationship," she said. "You're probably getting a lot of exposure, not just the time you spend on Facebook itself."
A possible solution
So should couples get off Facebook completely?
"I'd love to say that, but the reality is, no one's going to do that," she said.
Instead, they should change the way they think when they see the posts, she said.
"[When people] can see it in that positive way, 'There's hope for the future. If I work hard at this, I can be like them,' it turns out that we're not only going to be more satisfied, but we're going to be more committed to our relationship," she said.
That also prevents the wandering eye and spending more time with people other than our partner in general.
Morry hasn't looked at other social networks for the same effect yet, and she had too small a sample size of LGBT couples to see if the results extended to them as well.