People who use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter frequently are more likely to be shallow and materialistic, a study published this week has suggested.
A new research paper, included in open access journal Heliyon, claims that materialistic people see their Facebook friends more as "digital objects" rather than actual friends.
And they tend to have more virtual friends than people who are less materialistic, the researchers claim. Materialistic people, the study found, generally feel they have a need to compare themselves with others on social media, and to not be found wanting.
Researchers working at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, who authored the study, have come up with a new theory to explain the way materialists act on the internet, called the 'Social Online Self-Regulation Theory'.
The idea is that materialistic people see Facebook as a way to achieve their goals and feel good. They're less interested in maintaining relationships with people, instead using them as "objects", collecting online friends in the same way a stamp collector collects stamps.
"Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends - they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possession," said lead author Phillip Ozimek.
"Facebook provides the perfect platform for social comparisons, with millions of profiles and information about people. And it's free - materialists love tools that do not cost money."
To come up with these findings, the researchers distributed an online questionnaire to 242 Facebook users. They were asked to answer a series of statements in order to generate an understanding of their Facebook activity.
The questions also explored the users in terms of their social comparison orientation, materialism, Facebook friends and in instrumentalization of Facebook friends.
According to the results, the hypothesis that materialistic people use Facebook actively comes down to the fact that they have strong social comparison orientation and more friends.
Looking to validate the original findings, the researchers collected a further sample of 289 users, although this time there were less students and more males. The results, however, were the same.
"Social media platforms are not that different from other activities in life - they are functional tools for people who want to attain goals in life, and some might have negative consequences for them or society," said Ozimek.
"We found that materialists instrumentalize their friends, but they also attain their goal to compare themselves to others.
"It seems to us that Facebook is like a knife: it can be used for preparing yummy food or it can be used for hurting a person. In a way, our model provides a more neutral perspective on social media."
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