With the advancement of technology, using the Internet on a daily basis has become the norm of the youths. More than 93 of American youths went online as of 2009 and the current number of youths online is likely on the rise (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010). The increasing amount of Internet usage and Internet interactions has been the trend in Singapore and overseas. In Singapore alone, there are more than 3 million Internet users, or 68% of the population, according to International Telecommunication Union (2009).
Many research studies have been interested in how the Internet affects our lives. There are many facets of the Internet that have been of research interest: computer games, websites, chat rooms, online communities and forums. Among these topics, studies usually focus on the negative impact of Internet related activities such as pornography, gambling, Internet and gaming addiction, online fraud, and how all these activities affect the mental and physical well-being of people and, in particular, children. The focus of research topics with regards to Internet addiction is also great (Davis, 2001; Grohol, 1999; Holmes, 1997). Studies show that Internet addiction has been associated with major depression, anxiety, personality disorders, substance abuse and deficits in social skills (Shaw & Black, 2008; Block, 2008; Ghassemzadeh, Shahraray & Moradi, 2008; Bernardi & Pallanti, 2009). On the other hand, Campbell, Cumming & Hughes (2006) argue that time spent online is unrelated to anxiety or depression and people who regularly use chat are less socially fearful.
However, as Internet is seen more of a necessity in the daily life of a Singaporean youth, it will be difficult to distinguish an Internet addict based on the number of hours one has spent on the Internet. It is common for Singaporean youths to be given e-homework or online study breaks where students are encouraged to do self-study online. The line between what is necessary and what is excessive is then further blurred due to the cultural change of the importance of the Internet in a youth’s life.
There are many online platforms available on the Internet where people can communicate and interact with each other. Social Networking Sites, or SNS, are web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). SNS such as Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, are a combination of older online communication technologies like chat rooms, websites and hobby groups, which allows users to do many different types of interactions on a single platform. Traditional online communities typically provided individual-centered service whereas SNS provides a group-centered approach to online communications. SNS sites allow users to share ideas, activities, events, and interests within their individual networks. These sites typically allow users to create a profile page where they can display their name, pictures, personal information, hobbies, interests and other information that users want to display. The profile page on SNS becomes an online identity or persona that a person uses to interact with friends and strangers on the web. Depending on the features of the SNS, users can post articles, quotes, videos, music, comments and other types of online media to each other’s profile page. The interaction that users have with each other online is certainly not any less than chat rooms, emails, or other form of online interaction since SNS encompass all these features. This is why SNS are the most visited websites in the world, with Facebook being the most popular social networking platform (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010).
According to Facebook’s press room web page (“Facebook Press Room”, 2010), there are currently 400 million active users worldwide. According to Alexa Top 500 Global Sites (2010), a website that analyzes web traffic statistics, Facebook is the second most visited website in the world after Google.com. Facebook is also the top website visited in Singapore, Indonesia, Norway, Philippines and Malaysia. Singapore alone has 2.6 million users on Facebook according to Social Bakers Singapore Facebook Statistics (2012). With Facebook’s increased popularity since the company was first started in 2004, it should come as no surprise that it is now common for people of all ages and backgrounds to have a Facebook page, if not some other kind of social networking profile.
Facebook has gained such popularity that there are people coining the term “Facebook Addiction Disorder”, although there have been little studies on the topic. In an article on CNN’s website, Cohen (2010) interviewed several therapists, and one described “Facebook Addiction Disorder” as “a compulsion – a compulsion to dissociate from your real world and go live in the Facebook world.” The article also implied that the reason people are addicted to Facebook is to escape from their real lives, and that Facebook is very much ingrained into our daily lives, not unlike Internet addiction.
Due to the unique functionality of Facebook and other SNS, there has recently been increased interest in research on social networking. Hence, studies focusing on user habits and how Facebook affects individuals’ lives in various aspects have been on the rise.
This study chooses to mainly examine Facebook usage as SNS is an on-going trend, through which most youths interact with other people after school. Due to the vast number of activities one can engage in on Facebook, it satisfies the entertainment needs of youths. We suspect that many youths have also been establishing friendships on the Internet via social networking tools.
To fully understand why Facebook is such a powerful platform which has attracted so many people, one would have to explore the different features that Facebook offers. Currently, Facebook allows its users to “friend” people on their Facebook page, where one can customise their privacy setting of their Facebook “friend” to allows their “friends” to have full access or limited access to their Facebook page.
Users can also post comments, pictures, videos and links on their own Facebook page, or comment on others’. Users can like each other’s comments and reply to them as well, so there is multi-way interactivity between users. Other features of Facebook also include the “Gifts” options where users can give virtual gifts to others, or “Poke” which serves no other purpose other than virtually nudging others. Users can also use Facebook’s instant messenger to chat with their friends real-time.
There are many other applications within Facebook that adds even more dynamic functionality to the website and the number of applications available to its users are growing every day. Applications available on Facebook include: games, education, business, lifestyle, sports and utilities. All of these applications allows for users to use them while interacting with other users and their friends. As Facebook faces many competitors in the market, they continue to expand and integrate more functionality to their site to engage a wider range of users. With the increased popularity of smart phones, mobile phones that can access the Internet and allow for users to install applications, it is also very common for people to use Facebook on their mobile phones. This allows for users to use Facebook even when they are in school, at work, taking public transportation or having meals.
SNS provides many differing applications and functions, and its ever increasing usage leads it to become a growingly integral part of the daily lives of adults and adolescents. As such, it is both a vital and fascination area for research into its effects. Although the study on computer mediated communication is not new, there are many different aspects of SNS applications yet to be researched about.
This chapter describes the literature on some of the research done on Facebook users, and lists the research questions and hypotheses investigated in this dissertation.
Most studies agree that because of the reduced nonverbal cues in Internet usage, users experience a greater sense of anonymity online than in face-to-face exchanges (McKenna & Bargh, 2000; Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimmons, 2002). Campbell, Cumming and Hughes (2006) further argue that the Internet was used by socially anxious, depressed, inhibited individuals as a form of low-risk social approach. Socially anxious children and adolescents have been found to exhibit significantly poorer social skills than those who are socially well adjusted (Beidel et al., 2007). Hence, the usual way of interaction with others will pose difficulties for them compared to interactions on the Internet where less social skills are required to socialise. As the online platform eliminates the need of being physically face-to-face with the other person, people who are less comfortable with making eye contact, being in physical contact with someone else and who are afraid of scrutiny can be more at ease communicating through a medium that does not require these skills.
As physical attractiveness is not important in the Internet environment, it may offer them a safe opportunity for identity experiments with much less fear of disapproval and rejection (Ando & Sakamoto, 2008). Therefore socialising and communicating through online methods are more appealing to lonely and socially anxious people (Morahan-Martin & Schumacher, 2003). Moreover, as interacting on Social Networking Sites (SNS) allows for amendments or deletions of what was posted or said, people have greater control over what will be expressed to others.
It is worthy to note that the majority of the studies on shyness, loneliness, social anxiety and peer support cited are likely to refer to individual’s perceived feelings based on face-to-face interactions with other individuals or the lack of this. As the Internet allows for individuals to overcome such feelings by giving an alternative platform of interaction besides physical contact, studies of the Internet and especially SNS might reveal different results from face-to-face interaction. Some studies cited also researched on the Internet as a whole, rather than different aspects of the Internet. This study, however, will only focus on SNS and its relationship with shyness, loneliness, social anxiety, peer support and online social comfort.
Shyness is typically characterised by an inhibition of social behaviors in the presence of others, and anxiety reactions such as tension, discomfort and aversion of gaze (Buss, 1980; Chen, Chen & Kaspar, 2001). Past studies also show that shy individuals typically report having fewer friends than non-shy individuals (for example, Jones & Carpenter, 1986). However, many studies of shyness in the past (for example, Buss, 1980; Cheek & Buss, 1981) have focused on inhibition of face-to-face social behaviors which does not account for online social behaviors. Furthermore, Cheek and Buss (1980) argues that shyness and sociability are distinct personality dispositions.
Using SNS to expand one’s social network would appeal to those that have difficulty engaging in social communication in the real world, like those that are shy. When compared with older Internet platforms such as forums or online bulletin boards, SNS enables interactive communication to a greater degree. The functionality of most SNS would enable people to share pictures, send short messages, update and keep track of activities in their lives. Ward and Tracey (2004) found that shy individuals were more likely to establish online relationships. Therefore shy individuals who might have problems establishing offline face-to-face relationships tend to find it easier to do so on SNS. Warden and Tracey (2004) speculated that for shy individuals to have higher Facebook usage is due to the anonymity that might appeal to them.
In a study of shyness and Facebook usage, Orr et al. (2009) found that for undergraduate students, shyness was correlated with the time spent on Facebook; these individuals have higher Facebook usage. They also found that shy individuals experienced more online social comfort on Facebook than non-shy ones.
A study by Madell & Muncer (2007) showed that shy individuals have some different preferences of online interactions, such as lesser email usage, but they have similar instant messaging and chat room usage as others that are not shy. They also concluded that although shyness did not encourage greater use of online communication tools, it did not act as a barrier.
Sheeks and Birchmeier (2007) found that shy individuals were more likely to report satisfying relationships established online. They also argue that because of the perceived control features of online interactions, people with social inhibition often turn to the Internet to meet their social and intimacy needs.
Our study will build on previous studies to investigate whether Singaporean youths who are shy will have increased SNS usage.
Social anxiety has been defined as the “enduring experience of discomfort, negative ideation, and incompetent performance in the anticipation and conduct of interpersonal transaction” (Hartman, 1986). Social anxiety is also characterised by a strong fear of humiliation and embarrassment during exposure to unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny by others (Kashdan & Herbert, 2001). Shyness/inhibition and social anxiety are similarly conceptualised, in that both phenomena pertain to fear and anxiety experienced in performance and other social situations, although social anxiety is a more debilitating condition (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). La Greca and Lopez (1998) found that children and youths with social anxiety are sensitive about being rejected, have fewer friends and close relationships, and feel less supported and accepted by their peers. Shyness has been pointed out specifically as a precursor of social anxiety (Schwartz, Snidman & Kagan, 1999) in studies of both adolescents and adults (Degnan & Fox, 2007). Hence, social anxiety can be said as a more serious state of shyness whereby the socially anxious person have difficulties in interacting with others and problems socializing.
Some studies did not find significant age or grade differences for adolescents in western countries for social anxiety (La Greca, 1999), whereas others reported higher scores on the Social Anxiety Scale for adolescents in early to mid-adolescence than older ages (Inderbitzen & Walters, 2000; Storch, Masia-Warner, Dent, Roberti & Fisher, 2004). One study of Chinese adolescents reported higher levels of anxiety in older adolescents (16-19 years) than younger ones (14-15 years) on the social anxiety subscale of the Chinese version of the Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children (Yao et al., 2006).
Campbell, Cumming and Hughes’ (2006) study found that the chat functions of Internet applications could provide socially anxious individuals with a means to cope with their social anxiety. Also, regular chat users had less social anxiety and the amount of time spent online is unrelated to anxiety or depression.
This study aims to examine whether socially anxious individuals, similar to shy individuals, will have increased SNS usage.
Loneliness is a subjective emotional state where people feel isolated from others. It is during adolescence that social relationships start to expand outside of the individual’s family unit (Giordano, 2003), therefore peer acceptance and social involvement is crucial at this stage. Moreover, loneliness in adolescence has been associated with depression, antisocial behaviors, and social anxiety (Beidel, Turner, Young, et al., 2007; Prinstein, Boergers & Vernberg, 2001).
Kraut et al. (1998) conducted a 2-year longitudinal study where 169 participants who had never been online were given full Internet access and found that there were correlations between hours spent online and reported feelings of depression and loneliness. They concluded that the more hours people used the Internet, the less time they spent in contact with “real human beings” and the poorer their psychological wellbeing in areas of depression and social anxiety. However, it may also be the case that people with depressive tendencies turn to the Internet, rather than the Internet causing depression. In a later study, Kraut and colleagues (Kraut et al., 2002) reported that the observed negative effects of Internet use had faded. In addition, they conducted another longitudinal assessment of Internet use and psychological well-being with a sample of new computer and television purchasers but were unable to replicate their earlier findings.
Many studies (Prisbell, 1988; Riggio, Throckmorton, & DePaola, 1990; Segrin & Flora, 2000; DiTommaso, Brannen-McNulty, Ross & Burgess, 2003) have found a significant negative relationship between loneliness and self-rated and observer-rated social skills. For example, Spitzberg and Hurt (1987) found that an individual’s degree of loneliness was negatively related to his or her self-rating of interpersonal competence. Similarly, in a study on loneliness and interpersonal skill in dating situations, Prisbell (1988) concluded that lonely people reported having greater difficulty with initiating face-to-face social activity, less interest in face-to-face social activity, and perceived social activity to be less rewarding than non-lonely people.
If SNS like Facebook can serve as a platform for interaction with peers, expanding their circle of friends, establishing and maintaining relationships, then perhaps the patterns of loneliness versus Internet usage will be inversely related. SNS is hypothesised to serve as an alternate communication method rather than an escape from reality as suggested by other studies (for example, Caplan, 2003). Caplan (2003) also claims that lonely and depressed individuals may develop a preference for online social interaction. However, if loneliness is perceived social-isolation, then isolating oneself from SNS might instead generate the same feelings of loneliness.
Children’s social, emotional and behavioral problems has also been found to affect their relationships, leading to loneliness (Kupersmidt, Sigda, Sedikides & Voegler, 1999). A study by Bonetti, Campbell, and Gilmore (2010) reported that students aged 10 to 16 years old, who self-reported being more lonely had higher online communication usage. They posit that Internet usage allows them to fulfill the needs of social interactions, self-disclosure and identity exploration. These students also reported communicating more frequently about personal and intimate topics.
Our study aims to find out if there are different patterns of loneliness for different age groups of Singaporean youths with different levels of SNS usage
It is during the adolescent period that peer interactions arguably hold the greatest importance for individuals’ social and behavioral functioning (Berscheid, 2003; Collins, 1997; Gifford-Smith & Brownell, 2003). Adolescents’ relationships with friends and peers have a significant role in the development of social skills and feelings of personal competence, which are necessary for adult functioning (Ingersoll, 1989). Adolescent peer relations have great social and emotional importance and have the capacity to set individuals on different trajectories for overall adjustment later in life (Collins & Laursen, 2004). Also, peer relationship seems to be influential in facilitating adolescents’ sense of personal identity and increasing their independence from families (Ingersoll, 1989; Dusek, 1991). By middle childhood, more than one third of social interactions involve peers (Gifford-Smith & Brownell, 2003), and most adolescents spend more time with peers than they do with their families (Fuligni, Eccles, Barber, & Clements, 2001). Scheier and Botvin (1997) also found that less social support has been linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Social isolation and lack of social support seem to be more strongly associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression in boys than girls (Larson, Richards, Raffaelli, Ham & Jewell, 1990; Troop-Gordon & Ladd, 2005; Derdikman-Eiron et al., 2011). Research on social relations during adolescence has frequently revealed that girls generally report receiving more social support than boys (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987; Furman & Buhrmester, 1992). However, other studies have found no sex differences (Shulman, 1993).
The quality of friendships plays a very important role in adolescence, where youths would learn social skills, social behaviors, social interactions, personal growth, etc. However, the dynamics of friendships complicates with increased usage of the Internet. A Nie and Hillygus (2002) study found that the more participants used the Internet, the greater their chances were for experiencing deterioration of offline social relationships. The argument posits that Internet interaction is often of lower quality than face-to-face interaction, because constraints inherent in the online medium hinder relationships. Furthermore, use of online communication may be positively correlated with adjustment problems because (a) socially inept youths are drawn to online interaction and (b) the almost inevitably poor quality of online communication increases maladjustment (Mikami, Szwedo, Allen, Evans & Hare, 2010).
Although many studies have shown strong relationships of Internet usage and negative behaviors, it is undeniable that youths have been interacting with others online via a wider medium of online communications such as SNS. Other studies have also shown improved peer support with Internet and SNS usage. Willoughby (2008) found trends that adolescents’ self-reports of better relationships with peers, though not with parents, predicted increases in Internet use over a 21-month period. Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2007) also found that the amount of time college students reported using Facebook was positively correlated with their self-reported face-to-face involvement in the college community; this relationship held after statistical control of total Internet use, suggesting a unique function of Facebook to enhance social communication.
As SNS functions much differently from traditional Internet usage, our study posits that youths that have greater SNS usage will feel increased peer support. These youths need not necessarily be interacting with strangers, but also with real life friends as well as relatives on SNS. Youths also use the Internet platform to communicate and broaden their circle of friends, or even for keeping in contact with relatives and friends overseas.
Caplan (2003) defined online social comfort as preference for online social interaction, an individual difference in cognition characterised by beliefs that one is safer, more efficacious, more confident, and more comfortable with online interpersonal interactions and relationships than with traditional face-to-face social activities. It was speculated that depressed and lonely individuals felt greater online social comfort due to anonymity, greater control over self-presentation, more intense and intimate self-disclosure, less perceived social risk and less social responsibility toward others than in traditional face-to-face communication (Walther, 1996; Caplan, 2003). However, pre-SNS research on online social comfort focused on computer-mediated communication (CMC) (Walther, 1996; Caplan, 2003). Some of the above mentioned reasons (such as anonymity, social risk and social responsibility) does not apply to SNS since SNS has different functions than older CMC.
When one refers to “friends” in the context of Facebook and other SNS, the “friends” refer to people they have added to their page and can interact with. These “friends” can be their real life friends, virtual friends, relatives, acquaintances, colleagues, classmates, or even total strangers. Hence, it would be interesting to discover how the frequency of Facebook usage affects their real life friendships, as well as the quality of these friendships as compared to online friendships. As people who are more comfortable with socialising online will likely prefer to use SNS to establish relationships with others, this study then further aims to show that youths that have more online social comfort will likely have an increased usage of SNS.
With the prevalence of youths using SNS as a form of socialising, it is important to know how usage of SNS relates to youths’ psycho-social well-being. This study aims to show that although it may be more appealing for shy, lonely and socially anxious individuals to use this kind of platform for socialising, it is an increasingly more important mean of socialising for youths depending on their developmental age and gender.
Livingstone and Helsper (2007) also revealed a “digital divide” by culture, age and gender in terms of access and quality of use of the Internet. Hence, youths of different shyness, loneliness and social anxiety levels might show different patterns of SNS usage across different gender and age groups of youths in Singapore.
This dissertation aims to provide some answers for the following questions:
Are children and adolescents who are more shy, socially anxious and lonely more likely to frequent SNS?
Are children and adolescents who frequent SNS more comfortable online and obtain better online social support than their counterparts who use SNS less frequently?
The hypotheses will also further examine these relationships across gender and age groups by means of comparing their educational level.
Children and adolescents who are shy are more likely to frequent SNS.
Children and adolescents who are socially anxious are more likely to frequent SNS.
Children and adolescents who frequent SNS are also more comfortable socially online than others.
Children and adolescents who frequent SNS are less likely to be lonely.
Children and adolescents who frequent SNS have better peer support than youths that do not.
This chapter provides a summary of the research findings and examines the importance of this study in relation to other findings in the literature. Limitations of the study and recommendations for future research are also discussed.
As SNS, such as Facebook, is a recent Internet phenomenon, there is a lack of research in the area of psychosocial well-being of youths with SNS usage. The research aims to explore whether it is more appealing for shy, lonely and socially anxious Singaporean youths to use SNS as a platform for socialising, as with past research with Internet usage, and whether youths that frequent SNS feel more comfortable online and have better social support.
The first research question examines children and adolescents usage of SNS in relation to their shyness, social anxiety and loneliness. The results show that generally upper primary, lower secondary and upper secondary students were found to be less shy if they were high SNS users. As compared to older studies of shyness and Internet usage, this trend of SNS users may be due to the normalization of SNS usage in today’s online culture. The unique nature of socialising online may be a socially accepted means of connecting with each other, and hence the shyness behavior might be transferred online. In other words, people who are shy might not use SNS as frequently due to their shyness when interacting with others. The study also found that lower secondary students who were high SNS users were less lonely than non users. In the context of Singapore’s educational system, students enter a new school after completing their primary education and attend new secondary schools. In their lower secondary years, they face a change of environment and have to adjust to having new classmates and friends. This is consistent with our study as the level of loneliness showed a high – low – high – low general trend for the different educational levels. When students newly enters primary school and secondary school, they may feel a higher sense of loneliness as they will need to adapt to their new environment. Lower secondary students who use SNS more frequently might be able to adapt to the change in their educational and social environment by socialising more online. However, for lower primary students, non SNS users had lower anxiety levels than users of SNS. This could mean that lower primary students that are socially anxious might seek out SNS as an outlet for interaction with others and use SNS more frequently than their peers. This is consistent with Campbell, Cumming and Hughes’ (2006) study which found online chat provides socially anxious individuals with a means to cope with their social anxiety.
The second research question examines whether children and adolescents who frequent SNS are more comfortable online and reported better online social support than those that use it less. The results show that online social comfort was higher for SNS users compared with non SNS users across all educational levels except lower secondary, and males have more online social comfort than females. This result is expected since students who use SNS frequently will feel more comfortable socialising online. Females that have higher SNS usage also reported more peer support than males. This might be due to females generally having more peer support than males, and perhaps females respond better socially with this mode of communication than males do. This is also consistent with numerous findings that female adolescents receive more social support than males (Armsden and Greenberg, 1987; Furman and Buhrmester, 1992).
The results of this study suggest that the position of the Internet in social culture has changed very markedly over the years. In the past, research on Internet-related topics were mostly linked with negative personal and social functioning; Internet addiction has been associated with major depression, anxiety, personality disorders, substance abuse and deficits in social skills (Shaw & Black, 2008; Block, 2008; Bernardi & Pallanti, 2009; Ghassemzadeh, Shahraray & Moradi, 2008). In today’s context, due to the widespread usage of Internet and social acceptance of SNS as a mean of socialising, it seems that past research on the Internet are no longer relevant. Furthermore, the increasing use of Internet-enabled mobile phones has led to increased usage of SNS. The convenience of accessing the Internet and SNS is so great that people can access information wherever they are, be it at work or in school. With the advancement of technology, it will be no surprise that SNS and Internet-based applications will play a even greater part of people’s everyday lives in the future.
Our study shows that shyness and loneliness is inversely related to SNS usage, and that could be because SNS allows for users alternative ways of interacting with their peers. Students who are less shy have higher SNS frequency. High SNS users are also less lonely compared to their peers, perhaps due to this form of social interaction. The SNS phenomenon might be so great that students who do not use SNS might be at a disadvantage in socialising in the real world as well. SNS also serves as a tool to enhance socialising in real life, for example, many Facebook users would use their application to organize events, which non-SNS users might become excluded from.
In past research studi
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