A recent paper written by professors at the Columbia Business School and the University of Pittsburgh found a correlation between self-esteem and lack of self-control in people who use social networks, specifically Facebook. According to the paper, users who have strong ties to their Facebook friends and spend more time on Facebook are less likely to exhibit self-control, as demonstrated by lower credit scores and higher debt levels.
According to the paper, “Are Close Friends the Enemy? Online Social Networks, Self-Esteem, and Self-Control,” after browsing their Facebook profile, participants with a greater number of strong ties were more likely to experience an increase in self-esteem, simply because they care more about the opinion of those ties.
That bump in self-esteem, though, led to a drop in self-control. The authors, Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, and Andrew Stephen, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh, referred to research from 2006 that found consumers can be more indulgent or impulsive when they have “elevated feelings of self-worth.”
The authors asked participants to indicate the number of credit cards they owned and the amount of debt they had accrued. They also asked for their credit score. They found that the more often participants used Facebook, the lower their credit score and the higher their debt tended to be.
But perhaps those participants are just bad with money and their financial straits have nothing to do with Facebook. “It is possible that people with strong ties to their friends spend an inordinate amount of time online or on social networking sites, instead of exercising or socializing with offline friends, which could offer an alternative explanation for our findings,” they acknowledged.
Wilcox and Stephen questioned participants on their offline behavior to determine how much of an effect social networking really has. They found no significant correlation between the amount of time participants spent online, the percent of that time spent on social networks, the time spent with friends offline and the number of relationships a participant had offline.
“This research advances our knowledge of social networks by demonstrating that social networks can have significant effects on consumer judgment and decision-making, even in tasks that are unrelated to social network use or more general social behavior,” the authors wrote.
Wilcox and Stephen referred to 2010 data from Nielsen that found social media use accounts for 23% of time spent online, about twice as much as any other online activity. Regarding Facebook specifically, in 2012 people spent about 700 billion minutes each month on the site, according to the paper.
The paper was published online in the Journal of Consumer Research and will appear in print in the June 2013 issue.
The authors conducted a total of five studies to test their hypotheses. Other studies focused on participants’ health and ability to perform mental tasks like solving word puzzles. To read more about the testing procedure for each of the studies, click here.