Social Media; Friend or Foe?

So, hello everyone! I have been out of the loop on social media lately- work, family, study and other commitments have kind of got in the way; and for that, I apologise.

Hang on, why am I apologising? Surely it is up to me what I post, when I post, how often I post, what I am exposed to and how it affects me? Right? Well, maybe that’s not necessarily the case- particularly if you have a large ‘friend’ base on social media!

I thought this might be quite a relevant topic with which to re-enter my social ‘sphere’. The thing about Facebook, Instagram and other forms of social media, is the control (or lack of it) that we perceive we have.

A recent study by Sarah Buglass from the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent university, in the UK, suggests that ‘as our network size increases, the ability to remember who, or in the case of misclassified profiles, what you are connecting to, becomes increasingly more difficult, and the management of these networks more complex’ (Buglass et al., 2016).

The researchers studied 177 UK based Facebook users, of these 89% had their settings set to ‘friends only’, but just 22% used additional filtering option to improve their online safety. People who had smaller networks (less than 150 friends) were found to be more able to manage the information that they were posting and who they were posting to, as they were more aware of whom they share their posts with.

People with large networks (150+ friends) were more likely to be exposed to unsuitable material, which could cause them Psychological harm. These people are leaving themselves vulnerable to who is able to see their information, which can lead to a risk of damage to their own reputations and that of others, harassment from disgruntled parties, but also the fact that these people were more likely to fall victim to potential data misuse.

Personally, due to the nature of my work, I do keep my private social media accounts, private, but I still do see posts from ‘friends’ that I don’t want to see- be that because I don’t agree with their content or that it is just not that relevant to me.

I know how to change my privacy settings to stop seeing these images and posts, but do you? Have you stopped to think about just who is seeing your personal data? Have you thought about how those ‘shocking’ posts are affecting you?

Having more Facebook friends doesn’t mean you are popular, it means that you collecting people on a list, some of whom will share your ideologies, some of whom will be remarkably different from your own.

Perhaps a friend has let you down? Perhaps you have become distant from your close friend, for whatever reason? Well, seeing them on a daily basis, on your Facebook feed could actually be damaging your psychological welfare- do you really want to be reminded that someone has hurt you deeply, or that you are no longer seeing your friends, whilst they are off having fun with new friends?

Whatever the reason, we need to take care of ourselves on social media- not only for data reasons, but our own psychological reasons. Everyone’s life is different; we don’t need to be measuring ourselves on the virtual achievements of others!

In the mean time, I am going back to my privacy settings and just checking for sure, that you can’t see how old I am!


 

Buglass, S., Binder, J.F., Betts, L.R. and Underwood, J.D.M. (2016) ‘When ‘friends’ collide: Social heterogeneity and user vulnerability on social network sites’, Computers in Human Behaviour, vol. 54, January, pp. 62-72.

 

 

Reality Check for Experts!

In our therapeutic work, we are trained to ensure that we understand and respect the fact that we are ‘not the expert’- the client (you!) is! It’s your life and your emotions and expectations; how can I possibly be an expert in your life? You, your thoughts and how you make sense of them lead me. Yes, we can offer suggestions, challenge unhelpful thought patterns, offer another way of looking at things, but, ultimately, this is your life, your choice. I can never be the expert in that!

So, I was rather tickled to find a study this week that suggested the more ‘expert’ we are in our field, the more likely we are to fall for made up facts! The study, from Cornell University in the USA (Atir, Rosenzweig and Dunning, 2015), took 100 subjects, who were asked to rate their knowledge of personal finances, with 15 specific finance terms; however, 3 of the 15 terms were actually made up! What they found was that the more the subjects knew about personal finance, the more they were likely to over claim their knowledge of financial terms, and in this particular case, fictitious terms!

What was really interesting was that the same pattern of over claiming emerged for other areas, namely biology, philosophy, geography and literature. Even if the subjects were pre-warned that there would be fake terms in the questions, they still made the same patterns of over claiming. To cement these findings, they further split the subjects in to 3 groups; one group took an easy geography tests (thus boosting their confidence in geography), one group took a difficult test (thus convincing them that they were not experts in geography) and the third group took no test.

When the hypothesis was then tested, the group who took the easy quiz were more likely to claim that they had specific knowledge of non-existent towns in the US.

What the researchers actually want us to take away from this study is the fact that many of us may actually stop learning about a subject when we start to consider ourselves experts. Hmm. So, where does that leave us?

Well, as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, is that we are experts in ourselves, but we often decide to stop learning. We decide to stop learning about ourselves and how we work and what we want from life, but the thing is, although we are experts, life changes. It changes in ways that we are not expecting, and sometimes, it changes in ways that we did not want.

Just because we are an expert in ourselves, doesn’t mean that we should ever stop learning about ourselves. If you were feeling low or demoralised, wouldn’t it be great to explore those feelings and learn why we are feeling like this? How it has affected us and how we can learn and grow from this?

Quite often, we are too scared to learn any more- after all, if things have gone so badly wrong for us at this point in our lives, what is the point? Life is a journey, it is not a destination (I am sure you will have heard that in a lecture somewhere, or even on a Christmas cracker!), and we are free to choose how we complete our journey and what we do along the way. By learning how to make ourselves feel fulfilled, we are not ‘faking it’. We are not professing to know the meaning of life! As a Counselling Psychologist, I do not know everything about life. I still make mistakes, I am no expert, but one thing I do want to do, is I want to carry on learning and growing. Each client I have teaches me something about life, psychology, my practice and the world. I wouldn’t want to stop learning for anything- would you?


 

Atir, S., Rosenzweig, E. and Dunning, D. (2015) ‘When Knowledge Knows No Bounds Self-Perceived Expertise Predicts Claims of Impossible Knowledge’, Psychological Science, July.

 

 

Death To All, But Metal \m/

Sometimes, you read a piece of research that really makes you sad, but sometimes, you read a piece of research that makes you smile and laugh- this is one of the blogs!

This week, a piece of research came out that really spoke to my soul (and, in particular, the teenager in me!)- the study comes from America, but is equally valid in the UK. As a teenager, and even now, I was heavily in to the ‘Alternative scene’. I didn’t listen to pop music, I listened to Grunge, Metal and Goth music, and the music seemed to offer a sort of peace of mind- I wasn’t the only person who thought this way. In fact, despite outward appearances and behaviours, I was actually really quite normal (if there can be such a thing as normal!).

So, the team in the USA wanted to find out- did the Heavy Metal kids from the 1980’s go on to lead a happy life? The back story to this study started, I guess, in the 1970’s with the birth of Heavy Metal music- bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Kiss had come to the forefront and exploded out of our stereo’s. Common myths were expounded at the time- if you played Sabbath’s records backwards, you would get a message from the devil! Now, we know that this is not the case, but back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, people genuinely feared for the sanity and the health of ‘Heavy Metallers’. They were seen as Satanists, or Occultists, and that no good would ever come of them and all they were trying to do was to get one over on ‘Big Brother’.

However, in reality, if you were in to this scene, you would know that this wasn’t true- the music was an escape for a lot of people, for the bad things that were going on in their lives. It gave people, who, like me, were ‘different’, somewhere to come together with likeminded people, talk, party, socialise and have something in common. To us, we were the normal ones, and the ‘norms’ were all weird!

So, back to the study- what did happen to those 80’s Metallers, and are they still living their Satanically demonic, drug-fuelled lifestyles? Well, the answer seems to be quite clear- the study from Humbolt State University utilised Social Media, to get together a group of 99 fans of Metal music, 20 musicians and around 20 ‘groupies’ (usually women, but sometimes men, who followed the groups around) and used a control group of a similar age, who were in to pop music, how their lives had turned out (Howe et al., 2015).

The heavy metal fans and groupies, but not musicians, reported that during their childhood they experienced more adverse childhood experiences than the control group did, with the groupies being particularly prone to suicidal tendencies. So, what does this tell us? Well, it tells us that the fans of metal music could have been drawn to the music because of the underlying themes of the music and the tone of the music, which seemed to tie in with their real-life experiences- life being dark, serious, moody and challenging; quite unlike the airy-fairiness of pop music.

The cohort of the study were examined against controls of attachment In their adult years (how well they form and keep personal relationships), the Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and how this interacts with their personalities and how they function with them. Comparing the control group with the test group found that there was really not much difference between the two groups, psychologically- despite the Metal groups early childhood difficulties.

So, what about now? How are they dealing with life now? Well, believe it or not, the Metallers actually feel as content in their lives as the ‘norm’ group, but, crucially enough, the Metallers actually recalled being significantly happier in their youths and only one third of the metal group expressed any regrets in their lives, whereas in the control ‘norm’ group, at least half of them actually expressed regrets over their lives, and this group actually had a higher occurrence of commencing counselling for emotional problems.

So, what this seems to suggest to us is that by listening to Metal music, the test group actually managed to get through their tumultuous teenage years, fairing better than their ‘norm’ counterparts. Perhaps this does lend weight to the belief that the music allows its listeners a sense of freedom, a sense of being understood and a sense of catharsis about their lives, allowing for the free expression of their emotions and creating an outlet for the frustrations of adolescence.

One of the most interesting parts of the study was that the Metal musicians actually did better in this study than their counterparts- that actually implies the idea that the musician group of the cohort were actually highly functioning. This means that the musicians decided what they wanted in life and pursued their goals until they successfully completed their ambitions, thus making a career out of a ‘hobby’ that they were incredibly passionate about. Which, just goes to show that, if you have a past time that you truly love and are completely passionate about, if you follow your dreams, you probably will be a lot happier than your peers and counterparts.

One word of warning though- a third of the musicians went on to contract an STD during their lives, which, when accepting that they averaged over 300 sexual partners each, doesn’t seem to be much of a surprise! Remember kids- always practice safe sex!

I guess that the lesson here is, just because you don’t like it, don’t understand it, or don’t agree with it, doesn’t make it wrong. We are all different, and different things make us happy, elated, confident and strive to make the most out of our lives. Even if it does mean we suffer neck ache when we are dancing!

n.b I am away training next week, so I am thinking of changing the blog posting day- Don’t be surprised to see a post earlier in the week!


Howe, T., Aberson, C., Friedman, H., Murphy, S., Alcazar, E., Vazquez, E. and Becker, R. (2015) ‘Three Decades Later: The Life Experiences and Mid-Life Functioning of 1980s Heavy Metal Groupies, Musicians, and Fans’, Self and Identity, vol. 1, no. 25, May.

Why didn’t you like my Selfie?

Social media is really on my mind this week- I have several online presences; both personally and professionally. I find it hard to maintain them, but in this day and age, when most of our interactions with our friends seem to come from social media, what choice do we have? If you have your own business, then you will know as well as I, that it is essential to have a presence in the online world. But, how is this impacting us in our lives, and what impact is it having for our children?

Bare with me on this, and you will see where I am coming from- there is a psychological platform that is commonly used to study the psychological implications of social interaction called the Ultimatum game. The Ultimatum game relies on two people, one of which is in charge of dividing ‘resources’ between themselves and the other person who is the recipient (these resources can be anything- sweets, money, pencils, but it is usually money).

The person, who is dividing the money, is free to divide the resources in any manner they wish; the recipient can then accept or reject the first person’s offer. If the offer is accepted, say for example a 50/50 split, and then each party gets 50% of the resources. If there is a 70/30 spilt, and it is agreed, then the split is 70% to the divider and 30% to the recipient. If the recipient rejects the offer, then both parties get nothing.

The brain processes involved in the Ultimatum game were analysed (the most cited study of this is (Wout et al., 2006) ) and the results found that ‘unfair’ offers (offers 30% or less), when made by a human partner were rejected at a significantly higher rate than offers made by a computer. Thus suggesting that the participants involved had a much stronger emotional reaction to unfair offers from humans, than they did to the same offers from a computer.

So, what does that actually mean, and what does it have to do with Social media, I hear you ask! Well, this study shows that interacting with humans takes much more emotional involvement, and by default, more cognitive effort (the effort involved in making our brains work) than interacting with a computer.

So, again, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with Social media? Well, this generally means that interaction with a computer is easier for us, as it requires less emotional involvement and cognitive energy than talking to a human- when we talk to humans, 55% of our communication is through body language, 38% through tone and speed of your voice, and only 7% is actually through what we say (Aron, 1997). So when we interact with people, we are constantly paying attention to what is being said, but also the body movements, gestures, the tone of voice, the words that are being said and eye contact that is, or is not, being made.

This enables us to see and hear how people are feeling when they are speaking to us- that is not available to us when we are ‘talking’ from behind our keyboards! This means, to speak online, we need to use a lot less effort than we do when we are face to face- it is easier to hide our emotions online than it is to hide them in a face to face conversation.

By utilising Social media, the user is able to project a personality, expression, opinion, and a persona if you will, that may not be the same as the person that they ‘actually’ are. We all say things out of anger, or hurt, sometimes, but when we say it to the person themselves, we see the effect and reaction we get from being cruel- you do not get that when you are behind a screen.

When we are talking to someone who is in a particular emotional state, we are primed to enter that state ourselves (Dimberg, Thunberg and Elmehed, 2000)- meaning that when we are talking to each other, if our friend is sad, we are likely to become sad ourselves. This is sadly lost when interacting via a computer. Social media is a virtual form of interaction- meaning that the interaction takes on some of the qualities of being real, but is not in fact ‘real’. Therefore, how do we know what we are being presented with is in actual fact, real?

What’s so bad about that, then? Well, for most people, using social media is a form of remaining in contact, whether because there is a distance involved or you just want to let people know how you are doing- ever noticed how most people only really post when good things happen? As adults, we can generally regulate our use of Social media much easier than young teenagers or pre-teens can. Most children have access to the Internet now, and in particular Social Media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Oovoo and other messaging platforms. Whilst they are happily posting away about how good there day was, how much they love their Bae, the ‘banter’ at school, or the fact that Zayn Malik has left One Direction (see, I really am ‘down’ with the kids!), these young people are posting their hearts and lives and loves out in the open, for all to see. It is amazing to me, how many young people’s online accounts are open access; enabling anyone to read them. Or the fact that parents do not seem to be checking what their children are posting to these platforms.

So, here in lies the problem- if a young person is posting on Social media that they are depressed, sad, excited or happy, how do we know that this is really happening? Haven’t you ever just sent a text saying ‘I’m good’ when in actual fact, you have a headache, feel poorly or tired, or are feeling a little depressed, stressed or anxious?

Social media can be a disingenuous way of communicating- the persona we are projecting may not be the persona we actually have, and so who is regulating this? As adults, we would like to the think that we would think twice before we posted something that could be, potentially, offensive. But, young people live in the moment, they speak from their heart and not necessarily their heads- if they are posting offensive comments, perhaps it is down to peer group pressure, and not the actual person they are; who actually does have a very different set of beliefs.

So, where do we go from here? Should parents check their childrens Social Media accounts? Do we need to teach, or remind, our children about self-regulation? We assume that schools are doing the job, but isn’t it also the caregivers responsibility? As shown by the Ultimatum game, we don’t respond to computers in the same way that we respond to people- although there is a person at the end of the Social media platform, perhaps it is easier to say things we don’t necessarily mean on a computer, and then have regrets after?

And what about us as adults? Who regulates us, when we are incapable of regulating ourselves? What we need to remember is that what we put out there on Social Media is there forever, even if we do delete it. Recipients or viewers can take screenshots and keep the information. Whatever you are preparing to say, be it to your audience, a friend or possible romantic interest, ask yourself these questions- would I say it to their faces, if I were stood in front of them? And if you would, how would it make them feel?

 


Aron, A. (1997) ‘The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings’, Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 23, no. 4, April, pp. 363-377.

Dimberg, U., Thunberg, M. and Elmehed, K. (2000) ‘Unconcious Facial Reactions To Emotional Facial Expressions’, Psychological Science, vol. 11, no. 1, January, pp. 86 – 89.

Wout, M.v.’., Kahn, R.́.S., Sanfey, A.G. and Aleman, A.́. (2006) ‘Affective state and decision-making in the Ultimatum Game’, Experimental Brain Research, vol. 169, Jan, pp. 564-568.