Facebook Causes Jealousy, Hampers Romance, Study Finds

February 13, 2009 - News Release

Hoping for a little romance this Valentine's Day? Then avoid logging onto Facebook. A new study by University of Guelph researchers finds that Facebook creates jealousy and suspicion in romantic and sexual relationships.

The study, which will appear in the journal CyberPsychology and Behaviour, is the first to provide evidence of a link between Facebook use and jealousy.

"Facebook gives people access to information about their partner that may otherwise not be accessible," said Amy Muise, a PhD student in psychology who conducted the study with student colleague Emily Christofides. The research was overseen by psychology professor Serge Desmarais.

"This may include details about their partner's friendships and social exchanges, especially interactions with previous romantic or sexual partners," Muise said.

She and Christofides, also a second-year PhD student, surveyed 308 Facebook users, all university students between the ages of 17 and 24. At the time of the survey, about half were in a serious relationship.

Nearly 75 per cent of those surveyed said they had previous romantic or sexual partners as "friends" on Facebook, and close to 80 per cent reported that their partner also had previous partners as "friends."

Participants answered questions designed to assess jealousy in the specific context of Facebook. They were also asked about their personal relationships, demographics and the amount of time they spent on Facebook. The researchers controlled for individual personality, relationship and social factors that would indicate a propensity for jealousy.

In addition to verifying an explicit link between jealousy and Facebook use, the study found that the more time people spend online, the more suspicious they become.

"It becomes a feedback loop," Christofides said. "Jealousy leads to increased surveillance of a partner's Facebook page, which results in further exposure to jealousy-provoking information."

Most study participants reported being aware that reading personal information on Facebook increased feelings of jealousy. But they said the social networking website is simply too hard to resist, especially the temptation to monitor their partner's page.

People also reported that they continue to disclose a lot of personal information on their Facebook pages, even though such details may incite jealousy.

"It fosters a vicious cycle," Christofides said. "If one partner in a relationship discloses personal information, it increases the likelihood that the other person will do the same, which increases the likelihood of jealousy."

Facebook was selected for the study because it's the most popular social network website in Canada. Launched in 2004, it has more than 120 million active users worldwide. University students were chosen because 90 per cent report using Facebook daily.

Desmarais, an expert in gender issues and interpersonal relationships, said it's important to study online network sites like Facebook because they are changing the nature of social relationships.

"In the past, people in romantic or sexual relationships were not, for the most part, subjected to daily scrutiny of their social exchanges by their partner," he said. "But this is the new reality for some; aspects of their lives that were once private are now open for all to see."

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt at Ext. 53338, lhunt@uoguelph.ca or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982, bagunn@uoguelph.ca.

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