CURL Fellow Taylor Trelford

Facebook Use and Romantic Relationships

Taylor Trelford’s project seeks to determine which factors of Facebook behaviour affect romantic relationship satisfaction in young adults.

Read Taylor’s Research Findings!

Background

As the world becomes increasingly technologically advanced, people are using social media more often for romantic purposes, such as finding a romantic partner, assisting in maintaining an ongoing relationship, terminating a relationship, or even to surveil potential or past romantic partners. Research has found that undergraduates who show more addictive tendencies towards Facebook display more cognitive jealousy (i.e. they feel more jealous) and more surveillance behaviours towards their partners (Elphinston & Noller, 2011). In addition, Muise, Christofides, and Desmarais (2009) found that increased Facebook usage predicted Facebook-related jealousy. Studies have further assessed what would cause Facebook to have a negative impact on some romantic relationships. For example, females spend more time on Facebook and display more romantic jealousy than males (Muise et al., 2009) and those with preoccupied attachment styles monitor former partners on Facebook moreso than those with any other attachment style (Gillian, 2015). Indeed, Facebook seems to be having some negative impacts on  romantic relationships.

However, Facebook has also been shown to have positive effects: 50% of participants in one study stated that Facebook had at least some positive impact on their relationship (Wolfe, 2015).

Project Plans

I would like to further explore what factors moderate the relationship between Facebook and both positive and negative effects on romantic relationships. Specifically, I plan to identify which Facebook factors result in reduced and increased relationship satisfaction.

I plan to use a questionnaire that will be distributed to young adults who are both currently involved in a romantic relationship and Facebook users. The survey will address how specific Facebook actions make participants feel. For example, the survey might include such questions as “how distressed do you feel when your partner excludes you from their profile picture?” or “how does it make you feel when your partner “likes” another man’s/woman’s photo?”. I would like to compare the results to demographic information, such as gender, length of relationship, attachment style, etc. to identify which individuals are most and least at risk for specific Facebook activities to cause them distress and relationship dissatisfaction. From here, I plan to do follow up research through my thesis project with Dr. Irene Cheung next school year to determine what strategies couples could employ to keep Facebook activities from deteriorating their relationship satisfaction by identifying healthy social media habits that can help increase relationship satisfaction. As Facebook is one of the most popular social media sites, the implications of this research would apply to anyone who is in both a romantic relationship and a Facebook user.

Project Status: June 29, 2017

Thus far in the project, I have completed my background research and am awaiting ethics approval to begin my data collection. My background research revealed an interesting study conducted by a PhD student that was very similar to the study I wanted to conduct. Wolfe (2013) used discussion groups and questionnaires to create a survey that measures Facebook behaviours and relationship satisfaction. Using this newly created measure, Wolfe discovered that while some Facebook behaviours were related to increased relationship satisfaction, other Facebook behaviours were related to decreased relationship satisfaction, and other behaviours still resulted in mixed results—sometimes they lead to increased relationship satisfaction, sometimes they led to decreased relationship satisfaction. With this questionnaire and information in hand, I was able to adjust my own project to further Wolfe’s (2013) research. Now, instead of creating a measure and determining which Facebook behaviours lead to increased and decreased relationship satisfaction, I am able to take things one step further and begin to determine why certain behaviours lead to increased satisfaction and others decreased satisfaction, but most importantly, I am attempting to determine why some Facebook behaviours lead to increased relationship satisfaction in some instances and decreased satisfaction in others. Specifically, I’ve modified Wolfe’s (2013) questionnaire so that it measures the extent of Facebook behaviours (and not just whether they occur or not, as was the focus in the original measure) and am also collecting data on jealous tendencies, trust, self-esteem, and attachment style as well as relationship satisfaction. I hope to find relationships amongst the various variables that suggest an explanation for the effects specific Facebook behaviours have on relationship satisfaction.

Conclusion

This research project has truly shown me how an initially simple-seeming question, such as “how does Facebook impact relationship satisfaction?” can actually be quite complex, as many variables come into play to effect one another in both linear and nonlinear fashions. For example, while I found that trust was a predictor of both positive Facebook behaviours and relationship satisfaction, I did not find that positive Facebook behaviours were a predictor of relationship satisfaction!

This research project also allowed me to have a taste of what it is like to conduct research in “the real world”, outside of my course work and classrooms. I learned valuable lessons about the frustrations of background research (such as being unable to find what you’re searching for), the importance of time-management (now aware of the lengthy wait time for receiving ethics approval, I’ll be sure to have my ethics submitted for approval much earlier in the future!), the excitement of researching a topic that is of personal interest to me, and the strength of collaboration: I learned more from working one-on-one with Dr. Cheung than I could have learned from any in class work. Working independently with Dr. Cheung allowed me to practice my research skills in a real-life setting and so allowed me to experience many of the complications that accompany real-life research that is avoided in our class work, such as lengthy waits for ethics approval, more complex data analyses, interpreting data from different view points, and the frustration of ending your research with more questions than you began with! Overall, the CURL fellowship allowed me to grow as a student and allowed me to sharpen the important research skills that will ensure success in my graduate studies.

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