1 C N OCIAL S AND , EHAVIOR ,B YBERPSYCHOLOGY ETWORKING OMMUNICATIONS R APID C Volume 15, Number 2, 2012 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. ª DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2011.0324 ‘‘They Are Happier and Having Better Lives than I Am’’: The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others’ Lives Hui-Tzu Grace Chou, Ph.D., and Nicholas Edge, B.S. Abstract Facebook, as one of the most popular social networking sites among college students, provides a platform for people to manage others’ impressions of them. People tend to present themselves in a favorable way on their Facebook profile. This research examines the impact of using Facebook on people’s perceptions of others’ lives. It is argued that those with deeper involvement with Facebook will have different perceptions of others than those less involved due to two reasons. First, Facebook users tend to base judgment on examples easily recalled (the availability heuristic). Second, Facebook users tend to attribute the positive content presented on Facebook to others’ personality, rather than situational factors (correspondence bias), especially for those they do not know personally. Questionnaires, including items measuring years of using Facebook, time spent on Facebook each week, number of people listed as their Facebook ‘‘friends,’’ and perceptions about others’ lives, were completed by 425 undergraduate students taking classes across various academic disciplines at a state university in Utah. Surveys were collected during regular class period, except for two online classes where surveys were submitted online. The multivariate analysis indicated that those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives. Furthermore, those that included more people whom they did not personally know as their Facebook ‘‘friends’’ agreed more that others had better lives. 6,7,9,10 styles of their language, Introduction and Literature Review or providing a set of links to other sites or associating themselves with certain people, 11–13 symbols, and material objects. Through these actions, others’ impressions ost people are concerned about M users of computer-mediated communication can leave better of them and try to manage these impressions in a fa- 1–5 With the invention of computer-mediated vorable way. impressions on others. communication, social interactions can take place beyond One feature of Facebook is that it enables users to present face-to-face. Computer-mediated communication differs from themselves in an online profile with pictures and life events face-to-face communication in that it eliminates many of the that they would like to share with those listed as their Face- subtle cues that people use to form their impressions of others. book friends. Although comments posted by others cannot be Without these subtle cues, will the impressions formed online controlled, Facebook users can still select whom they will differ from those formed through face-to-face interaction? allow to be Facebook friends; thus they can indirectly control This research aims to answer this question by examining some the comments. Previous research has found that Facebook perceptions of Facebook users. has affected the lives of its users, as well as their self- Previous research has found that users of computer- perceptions. For example, it can help users maintain or create 14–16 17 mediated communication can employ several techniques to social capital, facilitate civic and political participation, optimize their self-presentation and promote desired rela- motivate students and establish a higher-level affective 18 tionships, such as spending more time with greater cognitive learning classroom climate, and increase users’ self-esteem 6 19 resources to edit the messages, with positive comments posted by their Facebook friends. carefully selecting photo- 7 7 graphs, highlighting their positive attributes, Research also has found some negative impacts of Facebook. presenting an 8 7 ideal self, For example, Facebook can cause jealousy issues in romantic managing the having a deeper self-disclosure, A previous version of this paper was presented at the Western Social Science Association Annual Meeting held in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 2011. Department of Behavioral Science, Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah. 117
2 CHOU AND EDGE 118 18 20 users avoid the trap of correspondence bias and recognize the and decrease teachers’ credibility; relationships users’ external factors at work: it is the occasions that make their self-esteem might be negatively affected by including 21 friends happy. Based on the research and arguments above, strangers on Facebook, or by receiving negative comments 19 the following two hypotheses are formulated: posted on their Facebook page. In addition, people’s Face- book profiles affect others’ impression toward them. Previous H1: Those who are more involved with using Facebook are studies found that comments posted by users’ Facebook more likely to perceive that others are happier and are 22 13 friends, as well as the number of Facebook friends and the having better lives, and are less likely to agree that life is fair 13 attractiveness of Facebook friends, affect others’ impression (availability heuristic). of users’ popularity or social attractiveness. Building on H2: Those who include more strangers on their Facebook are previous research that has examined the impact of Facebook more likely to perceive that others are happier and are having better lives, and are less likely to agree that life is fair (cor- on users’ self-perceptions and others’ perceptions toward respondence bias). them, this study fills a research gap by examining the impact of Facebook on users’ perceptions toward others. Data Collection Theoretical Arguments and Hypotheses To test the hypotheses, a questionnaire that included the others are happier , others have a better life three perceptions— ,and It is argued here that Facebook users tend to employ some —was developed. The respondents were 425 under- life is fair heuristics when they form impressions of others, especially graduate students taking classes at a large state university in those whom they do not know personally. First, Facebook Utah between the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011 across various deprives its users from observing their online partners’ non- academic disciplines, including sociology, psychology, math- verbal expressions, thus compelling users to rely only on the ematics, social work, family study, chemistry, criminal justice, information they can get online. Second, Facebook social net- graphic design, astronomy, accounting, and dance. The in- works grow faster than real-life social networks; therefore, it structors of these randomly chosen classes were contacted first becomes nearly impossible for its users to interact closely with by e-mail. Appointments were then made to collect the sur- each of their network friends. Previous research found that an 21 veys from their students during their class period, except for average Facebook user has 217 network members, while the two online classes where surveys were collected online. average size of a real-life social network is expected to be 23 around 125. With the rapid expansion of their online social Dependent variables networks, especially of individuals whom they have never met 24–26 before, online users tend to become cognitive misers. Respondents were asked, ‘‘How much would you agree One possible way to manage the vast size of online social with the following statements? Many of my friends have a availability heuristic networks is to employ an ; that is, indi- better life than me; many of my friends are happier than me; viduals can base judgment on examples that they can easily life is fair,’’ with 1 indicating ‘‘strongly disagree’’ and 10 in- 27,28 recall. When forming impressions of others, it is easy for dicating ‘‘strongly agree.’’ The means of the two statements frequent Facebook users to recall the statements and pictures were 3.86 and 3.89, while the mean of the third statement was posted by their Facebook friends. Since people are motivated 5.93. In other words, most respondents tended to disagree to make positive self-presentations, the information and im- that others have better lives and others are happier, and tend ages posted by Facebook friends tend to be socially desirable. to believe that life is fair, which is consistent with the better- Constantly reading others’ reported positive life events, as 33,34 than-average effect. well as frequently seeing others’ pictures of happy moments, could give Facebook users an impression that others are Independent variables happy and have good lives. In contrast to their own life events, which might not always be happy and positive, This research uses ‘‘years of using Facebook’’ and ‘‘number frequent Facebook users might perceive that life is not fair. of hours spent on Facebook each week.’’ ‘‘Years of using Although Facebook users are all prone to employ the avail- Facebook’’ can indicate the experiences users have with ability heuristic, heavy Facebook users have more available Facebook, whereas ‘‘number of hours spent on Facebook each examples from Facebook; thus they are more vulnerable to a week’’ can indicate the degree of current involvement with distorted perception. the Facebook. When respondents were asked, ‘‘Have you When making judgments or forming impressions about ever used Facebook?,’’ about 95% of them (400 out of 425 others, one common attribution error is the correspondence respondents) answered yes, while 5% (22 out of 425 respon- ; that is, the tendency to assume that others’ actions and bias dents) answered no. Among Facebook users, the average words reflect their personality or stable personal disposition, number of years using Facebook was 2.55, and the average 29–32 rather than being affected by situational factors. number of hours spent on Facebook each week was 4.83. When The means and standard deviations of all variables used in seeing others’ happy pictures posted on Facebook, users the multivariate analysis are presented in the Appendix. might conclude that others are happy, while ignoring the circumstances or situations that made others happy. The correspondence bias is more likely to happen when Facebook Data Analysis users make attributions about people whom they have never The results of the multiple regression analysis of the three met before. They assume that happiness is a stable charac- others have a better life perceptions life is , others are happier , and teristic of their temperaments and that they are constantly fair are presented in Table 1. After controlling for religiosity, enjoying good lives. For those they do know personally, gender, and relationship status, the results show that those however, their past interactions with them help Facebook
3 119 IMPACT OF USING FACEBOOK ON PERCEPTIONS OF OTHERS’ LIVES 1. Multiple Regression Analysis of Three Perceptions —(A) Others Have a Better Life, (B) Others Table Are Happier, (C) Life Is Fair—on Selected Independent Variables (Standardized Coefficients) A Others have B Others C Life are happier is fair Independent variables a better life Years of using Facebook 0.16** - 0.12* 0.07 + Number of hours spent on Facebook each week 0.11 0.13* - 0.07 Number of people listed as Facebook friends 0.07 - 0.16* 0.17** - Number of Facebook friends not personally known 0.16** 0.05 0.04 Number of hours going out with friends each week - 0.16* - 0.14* 0.09 + + Religiosity - 0.11 0.13* - 0.11 Gender (male) 0.02 0.01 0.03 + 0.21 Single without a steady dating partner 0.15 - 0.10 Single with a steady dating partner 0.09 0.00 - 0.02 - 0.04 0.15 Married - 0.08 - 2 R 0.12 0.12 0.07 -value F 4.38*** 4.22*** 2.36* 327 N 328 332 + p < 0.05; ** p < 0.10; * p < 0.01; *** p < 0.001. tend to perceive that others are constantly happy, while paying = b 0.11, who spent more hours on Facebook each week ( little attention to the circumstances that affect others’ behavior. < 0.10) and those who included more people who they did p One could argue that frequent Facebook users shall know = 0.16, b not personally know as their Facebook friends ( the tricks others use to manage the impression; therefore, 0.01) agreed more that others had better lives than them- < p experienced Facebook users could avoid the potential dis- selves. Those who spent more time with their friends, how- torted perception. However, the results of the research sug- ever, agreed less that others had better lives than themselves gest that frequent Facebook users tend to perceive that others ( b =- 0.16, p 0.05). < are happier. In other words, they are more likely to be af- Number of years of using Facebook also had a significant fected by the easily recalled content and tend to have the impact on people’s perceptions. Those who had used Facebook correspondence bias, whether consciously or unconsciously. longer tended to perceive that others were happier than them- The problems of relying on an availability heuristic and b = 0.16, p 0.01) and had a lower degree of agreement < selves ( having correspondence bias can be alleviated by having more with the statement that life is fair ( < p =- 0.12, b 0.05). The more balanced information, which can be gained through deeper hours people spent on Facebook, the stronger was their agree- interactions with others. The results of this research found ment that others were happier. Those who had more friends on that the more time people spent going out with their friends, their Facebook agreed less with the statement that others were the less they agreed that others have better lives and are happier and agreed more with the view that life is fair. Those happier. In other words, when people have more off-line in- that were out frequently with their friends tended to disagree teractions with their friends, knowing more stories about that others were happier than themselves. others’ lives, both positive and negative, they are less per- suaded that others are happier than themselves. In this way, Discussion and Conclusions they can avoid correspondence bias. Since becoming ‘‘Face- The results of this research support the argument that using book friends’’ usually starts with two people knowing each Facebook affects people’s perceptions of others. For those that other in person, it follows that those with more friends on have used Facebook longer, it is easier to remember positive their Facebook tend to have a more balanced view of others messages and happy pictures posted on Facebook; these because they know more people in person. Therefore, they readily available examples give users an impression that others are more likely to agree that life is fair, and less likely to agree are happier. As expected in the first hypothesis, the results that others are happier, as the results of this research indi- show that the longer people have used Facebook, the stronger cated. was their belief that others were happier than themselves, and the less they agreed that life is fair. Furthermore, as predicted Acknowledgments in the second hypothesis, this research found that the more ‘‘friends’’ people included on their Facebook whom they did The authors would like to thank the editor and anonymous not know personally, the stronger they believed that others reviewers for their valuable feedback on previous drafts of had better lives than themselves. In other words, looking at the paper. happy pictures of others on Facebook gives people an im- pression that others are ‘‘always’’ happy and having good Disclosure Statement lives, as evident from these pictures of happy moments. In No competing financial interests exist. contrast to their own experiences of life events, which are not always positive, people are very likely to conclude that others References have better lives than themselves and that life is not fair. The correspondence bias is more likely to occur when people make New 1. Goffman E. (1959) The presentation of self in everyday life. inferences about people whom they do not know well. They York: Anchor Books.
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5 121 IMPACT OF USING FACEBOOK ON PERCEPTIONS OF OTHERS’ LIVES Appendix able Appendix A1. O T perationalization of Variables, Mean, and Standard Deviation Mean Min. S.D. Survey items and coding Max. 10 3.86 2.32 1 1. Others are having a How much would you agree with this statement? ‘‘Many of my friends have a better life better life than me’’ (1: strongly disagree; 10: strongly agree) 1 10 3.89 2.32 2. Others are happier How much would you agree with this statement? ‘‘Many of my friends are happier than me’’ (1: strongly disagree; 10: strongly agree) How much would you agree with this 1 10 5.93 2.78 3. Life is fair statement? ‘‘I believe that life is fair’’ (1: strongly disagree; 10: strongly agree) 0 8 2.55 1.36 4. Years of using How many years have you been using Facebook? Facebook How many hours do you spend on Facebook 0 80 4.83 7.77 5. Number of hours each week? spent on Facebook each week 6. Number of people Questions about your Facebook friends: 317.67 1400 3 239.77 listed as Facebook ‘‘How many people do you currently have on your Facebook?’’ friends 7. Number of Facebook 0 700 46.53 105.87 Questions about your Facebook friends: friends not personally ‘‘How many people you do not personally know?’’ known How many hours do you usually go out with 4 1.01 1 2.62 8. Number of hours going out with friends each week? 1: Never; 2: 1–3 hours; friends each week 3: 4–6 hours; 4: 7 hours or more 3.13 1 10 7.02 How much do you agree with this statement? 9. Religiosity ‘‘I am a very religious person’’ (1: strongly disagree; 10: strongly agree) 0 10. Gender (male) .43 .50 Your gender is: 1: male; 0: female 1 Your current marital status is: 1: single 0 1 .35 .48 11. Single without a without a steady dating partner; 0: other steady dating partner 12. Single with a steady 0 1 .20 .40 Your current marital status is: 1: single with a dating partner steady dating partner; 0: other 0 1 .39 .49 13. Married Your current marital status is: 1: married; 0: other
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