Feeling of loneliness drives people to Facebook, according to a new study. Researchers found that compared to non-lonely people, lonely people spend more time on Facebook.
Lonely individuals who are shy or have low social support may turn to Facebook to compensate for their lack of social skills and/or social networks in face-to-face settings, the study found.
Hayeon Song, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, analysed data from relevant existing studies to conclude that there is a relationship between Facebook use and loneliness.
The researchers concluded that the relationship exists because the feeling of loneliness brings its users to Facebook, rather than because Facebook makes people lonely.
The researchers said they chose to focus on Facebook because it is by far the most popular online social media site, with people using it to share personal information, meet people and develop friendships.
Whether the impact of all that "connectedness" is helping or harming human interactions is an ongoing topic in the media as well as in the scholarly community, Song said.
For several decades, researchers have been looking at whether Internet use, in general, is psychologically beneficial or detrimental.
Basically, researchers have had two conflicting hypotheses about what they call the "Internet paradox," Song said.
"Does spending so many hours with a machine keep people from making real connections with other people? Or, does it allow people who are shy or socially awkward a chance to connect with others in a way that's more comfortable for them than face-to-face communication?" Song said.
Song and her team's meta-analysis results, based on all the published studies, found that as loneliness increases, the time spent on Facebook increases.
This means, at least, that Facebook does not help in reducing loneliness even if we feel more connected while using it, Song said.
The research team looked at the cause-and-effect relationship between loneliness and Facebook use.
"We found that loneliness caused Facebook use rather than the other way around," Song said.
Non-lonely people use Facebook, but they also maintain rich personal communications and relationships without it, according to Song.
The research was published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour.