Amsterdam Center for Social Media

Does Facebook stop us from singing to ourselves when we are alone?

Camiel Beukeboom picture article

Camiel Beukeboom

The availability of social contacts is enormously important for people. We have a fundamental need to connect and interact with others. A lack of satisfactory social contacts has been shown to result in reduced psychological well-being and even in reduced physical health (Cohen, 2004). Yet, genuine social interaction is not always present. What do we do when we are alone or feel lonely?

Interestingly, research has shown that when social interaction is lacking, individuals seek out activities that can act as a substitute or reminder of social connections. Such activities have been called “social snacking” (Gardner et al., 2005). Social snacking reminds us of having an active social live when not immersed in it at that time, and appears to ameliorate some of the negative effects of feeling alone (Twenge et al., 2007). When individuals lack social interaction they may, for instance, look at photographs of loved ones, or anthropomorphize and talk to their pets. Also, being alone appears to induce people to use the TV for company, or to start talking or even singing to oneself (Jonason et al., 2008).

Nowadays, however, social media provide us with continuous access to our social network, that is almost unrestricted available via smartphones. A probably familiar first inclination when being alone is to grab for your smartphone to check your email, Facebook or Twitter messages. Does Facebook help us fulfill our need for social contact?

A recent study (Grieve et al., 2013) indeed suggests that connectedness derived from Facebook is distinct from, and may complement offline face-to-face connectedness in important ways. This suggests that, although causality could not be inferred, feeling connected to others in the Facebook environment is associated with positive psychological outcomes: lower depression, lower anxiety, and greater satisfaction with life. The benefits associated with Facebook connectedness are thus similar to those obtained from offline connectedness.

The findings of another recent study (Deters & Mehl, 2013) are consistent with this idea. In this experiment one group of participants was instructed to temporarily post more status updates on Facebook compared with a control group. Results revealed that the increase in status updates enhanced feelings of connectedness to friends, and, as a consequence, reduced feelings of loneliness. Interestingly, this effect was independent of presence of social feedback. That is, likes and reactions were not necessary for the emergence of positive effects of posting status updates.

It thus appears that when we are (temporarily) placed in social isolation, Facebook can serve as a form of social snacking, and help us maintain a sense of belonging. Facebook may consequently  have relieved us from a tendency to talk to ourselves, our pets or the TV, but worse, also from the indulgence of singing to ourselves when we are alone. Yet another, and undiscerned, pitiful side effect of Facebook.


Cohen, S., (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 59, 676–84.

Deters, g. F. & Mehl, M. R. (2013). Does posting Facebook status updates increase or decrease loneliness? An online social networking experiment. Social Psychology and Personality Science. doi:10.1177/1948550612469233

Gardner, W.L., Pickett, C.L., and Knowles, M.L. (2005). Social snacking and shielding: Using social symbols, selves, and surrogates in the service of belonging needs. In K.D. Williams, J.P. Forgas, and W. von Hippel (Eds.), The social outcast: Ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying (pp. 227-241). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Grieve, R., Indian, M., Witteveen, K., Anne Tolan, G., & Marrington, J. (2013). Face-to-face or Facebook: Can social connectedness be derived online?. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(3), 604-609.

Jonason, P., Webster, G. and Lindsey, E. (2008). Solutions to the problem of diminished social interaction. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 637-651.

Twenge, J.M., Zhang, L., Catanese, K.R., Dolan-Pascoe, B., Lyche, L.F., and Baumeister, R.F. (2007). Replenishing connectedness: Reminders of social activity reduce aggression after social exclusion. British Journal of Social Psychology, 46, 205-224.


Category: Eenzaamheid, Facebook, Onderzoek, Social media, Welzijn

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