Exploring the Effects of Social Media Use on the Mental Health of Young Adults


Social Media’s Effects on Romantic Relationships



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Exploring the Effects of Social Media Use on the Mental Health of (1)
Social Media’s Effects on Romantic Relationships
Another important way that social media affects its users network of relationships is through how it affects romantic relationships. Recent research findings have shown that Facebook can be damaging to romantic relationships due to increased jealousy, partner surveillance, and compulsive Internet use, (Kerkhof, 2011; Muise, 2009; Papp, 2012; Tokunaga,
2011; Utz, 2011). And unfortunately, not getting along with one’s spouse was related to more psychiatric disorders than not getting along with relatives or friends (Whisman, 2000). Internet use in general, not just social media use, has been shown to influence romantic relationship quality negatively. Kerkhof et al. (2011) found that compulsive Internet users reported greater conflict with their partners, more feelings of exclusion and concealment in addition to lower commitment, lower feelings of passion and intimacy, and less disclosure.


32 Jealousy within romantic relationships stems from real or imagined third-party threats to the integrity of the relationship (Sharpsteen, 1995). Situations resulting in jealousy within a romantic relationship range from a partner revealing interest in someone else, having an interaction with a past partner, or obtaining attention from an individual outside of the relationship (Sheets, 1997). However, this jealousy can occur in online contexts as well as in offline ones (Guadagno, 2010).
Muise et al. (2009) explored the relationship between Facebook use and jealousy and found that individuals who spent more time on Facebook reported more jealousy within romantic relationships and increased monitoring of their romantic partner’s Facebook profile. Research by
Elphinston et al. (2011) also indicates that individuals who use Facebook more often report feelings of jealousy and surveillance of their romantic partner’s profile. These results support the notion that Facebook use may produce or exacerbate jealousy within romantic relationships. One possible reason for this jealousy was found by Muise et al. (2009): The researchers found that increased time spent on Facebook may lead to increased exposure to ambiguous information about a romantic partner (for example, a nondescript post from a stranger or a photo with a member of the opposite sex. According to the researchers, exposure to such information without context may lead to increased jealousy. Considering the research by Muise et al., it maybe possible that Facebook induced jealousy serves as a feedback loop in which a romantic partner uses Facebook excessively to uncover additional information about their partner in order to reduce ambiguity in the information they have already uncovered (Clayton et al., 2013). Although excessive ambiguous information on Facebook may fuel negative emotions for couples, it may also be the case that use of privacy settings could also produce negative emotions


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(Muscanell et al., 2013). That is, when individuals set many parts of their profile to private, this may lead to increased suspicion on a romantic partner’s behalf. Muscanell et al. argued that this could lead to negative emotions in two ways. An individual may interpret this as a sign that his romantic partner does not publicly acknowledge their relationship. It could also indicate that one’s partner is hiding evidence of interactions with other potential romantic interests.
Muscanell et al. (2013) studied this theory by asking several subjects who were in romantic relationships to imagine different scenarios while observing their significant other’s Facebook page. Participants were more jealous, angry, disgusted, and hurt when they imagined that their romantic partner had no photos of them as a couple present on Facebook. The researchers postulated that this was because it indicates that one’s romantic partner either does not acknowledge being in a relationship, or maybe attempting to hide their current relationship. Similarly, participants reported feeling negative emotions when they imagined discovering that their romantic partner had their photos set to private as opposed to being viewable by others on Facebook. Again, the researchers believed that this maybe an indication (to participants) that their romantic partner is attempting to hide a current relationship, or hide evidence that may indicate interest in other potential romantic partners. Beyond extraneous information and privacy settings, Elphinston and Noller (2011) discovered that Facebook intrusion, by means of surveillance behaviors and jealous cognitions, was associated with relationship dissatisfaction for undergraduate college students who were currently in romantic relationships. In short, participants viewed stalker behavior by significant others to be a turnoff.


34 Clayton et al. (2013) offered other theories as to why social media might be affecting romantic relationships Individuals who are on Facebook may often be indirectly neglecting their partner, directly neglecting their partner by communication with former partners, and developing
Facebook-related jealousy or constant partner monitoring, which may lead to future relationship conflict or separation. Also, the researchers argue that high levels of Facebook use may serve as an indirect temptation for physical or emotional cheating. Clayton et al. (2013) found that individuals who are currently in a relationship of three years or less are more likely to experience negative relationship outcomes as a result of
Facebook-related conflict. This is alarming in regards to this thesis because this indicates that young adults, who are typically engaged in shorter romantic relationships, are particularly susceptible to social media’s effects on romantic relationships. The degradation of romantic relationships by social media is just one way that social media affects young adult social relationships. This degradation should be considered as a potential pathway in the connection between social media use mental health.


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