According to a new, soon-to-be-published study conducted by researchers at the Columbia Business School and the University of Pittsburgh, the act of online browsing, especially on social media sites, can have the unwanted side effect of making people lose some of their self control. The effect is the greatest among the people whose main contacts on social networks like Facebook were made up of their close friends.
The study found that along with helping people make new friends, an active Facebook account could also help make people fatter because online socializing not only raises self-esteem, the loss of impulse control can also be accompanied by a loss of control over what they eat. To conduct the study, the research team asked over 500 Facebook users how much time they spent on the site and how many close friends they had in their networks. The researchers also asked people about their offline habits, including questions about their debts and credit-card usage, their weight and overall eating habits as well as how much time people spent socializing in person, and not just online.
What they found was that along with the loss of self-control that can result in higher self-esteem and larger waistlines, activities on social media networks also seem to be related to more indiscriminate spending habits that result in higher levels of credit card debt too. Having less impulse control due to activity on social media sites also translates to more rude online behavior as evidenced by the fact that whether people are using Facebook, Twitter, message boards or websites in general, they are far more prone to say things to others that most people would never say to each other face to face.
It is thought that people may act more aggressive online because the anonymity of a fake screen name makes them feel invisible and untouchable. People also usually present an overly optimistic positive image of themselves online, as the encouragement they receive in the form of "likes" on Facebook can cause them to have an inflated sense of self. The researchers also believe feeling overly good about yourself online can result in a sense of entitlement that can cause rude online antics too. An interesting side note of the study was that many of the types of bad behavior exhibited online like weak self control and an inflated sense of self are also behaviors that are commonly associated with people who are impaired by alcohol.
It appears that aggressive online behaviors are linked to the inability to actually see the reactions of the person being addressed, and that people have a natural tendency to dehumanize each other when they can't focus on what they might have in common. Although it may be common for people to be less inhibited online these days, it still doesn't excuse the rude behavior that results from online anonymity. Just knowing that online anonymity can lead to a loss of self-control won't help you refrain from bad eating habits either. Watching your weight and maintaining a good diet require real action in the real world, and not just online. Whether you've got an active Facebook account with many friends or not, you're still the only person who is responsible for the way you look.