Millions of people actively use Facebook daily. In doing so, we socialize and accumulate Facebook friends – some we know from school or work and others we only know through our online social media universe.
But interacting with someone on social media is not the same as meeting them in person, and meeting Facebook friends face to face can cause anxiety one study finds.
A study, titled “Face to Face Versus Facebook: Does Exposure to Social Networking Web Sites Augment or Attenuate Physiological Arousal Among the Socially Anxious,” published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, was conducted in order to test two competing hypotheses about the effect of Facebook exposure on the physiological arousal level of participants who then encountered the stimulus person in a face to face situation.
The team – made up of Shannon Rauch and colleagues from the Benedictine University at Mesa, AZ and Providence College, RI – evaluated participants for their level of social anxiety and then exposed each of them to a Facebook friend online, a face to face encounter, or both.
During the aforementioned exposures the researchers charted physiological arousal (biological reaction, not necessarily sexually stimulated) using the galvanic skin response (GSR) measure.
GSR is also known as skin conductance, measuring electrical conductance on the skin which can vary depending on the moisture of the skin – such as perspiration. Skin conductance measure is used an as indication of psychological or physiological arousal.
Sweat is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). If the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is aroused or stimulated, the sweat gland activity will also increase. This in turn increases skin conductance. In this way, skin conductance can be used as a measure of emotional and sympathetic responses.
The most well-known use for measuring electrical conductivity of the skin is a polygraph or lie detector test. A change in the conductivity of the skin, as well as alterations in breathing, heartbeat, and perspiration, is one of the body’s responses when lying, explains WiseGeek.
After evaluating the GSR measures, the researchers determined the results were consistent with the augmentation hypothesis: a prior exposure online with a Facebook friend can lead to increased arousal during a face to face encounter, especially for those who are already socially uncomfortable.
The study suggests that socially anxious individuals prefer online interactions with Facebook friends over face to face communication. Or in the terms the researchers used, “results appear to indicate that initial exposure to an individual via Facebook may have a negative impact on consequent face to face encounters with that individual for those with high social anxiety.”
[Photo Credit: zetson]