Facebook research: What our usage reveals about us

Here's a roundup of recent research on the social network, evaluating how much we're using Facebook

Facebook is hot--or not, depending when and whom you ask. But there's no shortage of people talking about the merits and demerits of the social network, especially researchers who love to dig into how it's helping or hurting its users.

Here's the latest roundup of what they're saying about how much we're using Facebook, if it's good to have at work, what it does to our egos, and more.

IDC: People check Facebook like crazy

This week the market research firm IDC released findings from a Facebook-sponsored study it conducted regarding how people use their smartphones.

The online survey polled nearly 7500 iPhone and Android users younger than 45 and found that, on average, people use their phones for nearly 14 sessions totaling more than 32 minutes on Facebook every day.

Nearly half of the respondents said they use the social network while running errands, shopping, preparing meals, and working out, as well as during class, eating out, at an event, and at the movies. (Postscript: IDC is owned by IDG, which also owns TechHive and PCWorld.)

It's too bad the survey didn't include input from teens. At least in my house, they say Twitter and Instagram are where everyone in high school is hanging these days. In fact, even though Facebook owns Instagram, Facebook CFO David Ebersman recently said Facebook considers its photo-sharing service to be a competitor.

UK Study: Social media at work isn't a bad thing

Researchers at the Warwick Business School in the United Kingdom say the plethora of devices and social media at people's fingertips actually help them be more productive on the job.

After studying British, Finnish and German tech companies they determined that the many ways workers now have to communicate allow them to be more flexible and effective.

"We found that the ubiquitous digital connectivity altered workers' sense of 'presence' and helped rather than hindered the effective completion of collective tasks," said Professor Joe Nandhakumar. "This study also indicates that such digital connectivity afforded workers much greater latitude and control over their timing and location of their work."

Universities: Facebook boosts egos

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Cornell University say social networks such as Facebook are popular because "Facebook profiles are self-affirming in the sense of satisfying users' need for self-worth and self-integrity."

They also found that "Facebook users gravitate toward their online profiles after receiving a blow to the ego, in an unconscious effort to repair their perceptions of self-worth."

Cambridge/Microsoft: What "like" reveals

More than 58,000 Facebook users let researchers at Cambridge's Psychometrics Centre and Microsoft Research Cambridge analyze their likes and profiles along with data from personality tests.

"Researchers created statistical models able to predict personal details using Facebook Likes alone. Models proved 88 percent accurate for determining male sexuality, 95 percent accurate distinguishing African-American from Caucasian American, and 85 percent accurate differentiating Republican from Democrat. Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82 percent of cases, and good prediction accuracy was achieved for relationship status and substance abuse--between 65 and 73 percent," states a report about the study.

Their analyses also were able to accurately determine things like intelligence, emotional stability, openness, and extraversion simply by looking at the kinds of things people liked on Facebook.

"We believe that our results, while based on Facebook Likes, apply to a wider range of online behaviors," said Michal Kosinski, Operations Director at the Psychometric Centre. "Similar predictions could be made from all manner of digital data, with this kind of secondary 'inference' made with remarkable accuracy--statistically predicting sensitive information people might not want revealed. Given the variety of digital traces people leave behind, it's becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to control."

Other universities: Facebook can make you fat

According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School, when your close friends on Facebook give your posts a thumbs up or say nice things on the social network it boosts your self-esteem. Great news, right? Not so fast.

In a series of studies the researchers found that along with that boost to your ego comes a correlated drop in self-control which can lead to unhealthy food choices. They also noted that "... greater social network use is associated with a higher body-mass index, increased binge eating, a lower credit score, and higher levels of credit-card debt for individuals with strong ties to their social network."

Yale: Young people on Facebook are ageist

Here's kind of a dumb one: Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health admit that ageism can be found "in a wide variety of societal institutions" yet felt it was important to find out whether it's also present in social networking. Huge shocker--it is.

The study involved analyzing the descriptions of 84 Facebook groups focused on older people, with the mean age of the people who wrote them being 20 to 29 years old.

"Consistent with our hypothesis, the Descriptions of all but one of these groups focused on negative age stereotypes. Among these Descriptions, 74 percent excoriated older individuals, 27 percent infantilized them, and 37 percent advocated banning them from public activities, such as shopping," the researchers wrote about the study.

No Facebook? What's wrong with you?

Even though this idea didn't come from research, per se, it's such an interesting idea I couldn't resist adding it to the pile.

Some media outlets have pointed out that neither Colorado movie theater shooting suspect James Holmes nor Norwegian mass murder Anders Behring Breivik have Facebook profiles. In fact, some psychologists have said that using Facebook is an indication of having a healthy social network, which you might take as a sign of good mental health. Along those lines, an advice columnist for Slate has gone as far as writing that it might not be safe for young people to date people who don't use the social network.

In reality, chances are you know plenty of well-adjusted people who don't use Facebook simply because they see it as a humongous waste of time.

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Christina DesMarais

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