Study: stalking your ex on Facebook is bad for you

Study: stalking your ex on Facebook is bad for you

Summary: New research shows that obsessing over your ex on Facebook might seem like it helps ease the pain of breaking up, but it's potentially harmful for your mental health.

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TOPICS: Privacy, Health
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Turns out, obsessing over your ex on Facebook isn't just kinda creepy - it's also not good for you.

So-called "Facebook stalking: ex-partners is the focus of a new article published in the academic journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

 

facebook its complicated

Facebook Surveillance of Former Romantic Partners: Associations with PostBreakup Recovery and Personal Growth by Dr. Tara C. Marshall, Ph.D., tells us that online post-breakup fixation on your ex is really not a good idea if you want to get over it, heal your heart, or get back into personal growth patterns.

And even though "all the kids are doing it" - it's not going to be helping out anyone's mental health anytime soon.

The paper explains,

Not only do people use Facebook to monitor the activities of current romantic partners, but as many as one-third use Facebook to keep tabs on former romantic partners.

While Facebook surveillance of ex-partners has been linked to negative outcomes such as online and offline relational intrusion, the potential for Facebook contact and surveillance to disrupt emotional recovery and growth following a breakup has received little research attention.

The question many of us have is - how much wallowing in status updates and photo uploads is part of getting over it, and when does re-checking their page become problematic?

What's interesting to note, along with contemplating the question as to whether or not keeping tabs on an ex is a viable coping strategy for getting through heartbreak, is just how widespread and seemingly socially acceptable "Facebook stalking" - itself a form of interpersonal surveillance - has become.

Facebook Surveillance continues,

(...) In particular, people may use Facebook to keep tabs on an ex-partner’s current activities by checking his or her status updates, wall posts, comments, and photos; even if one is no longer Facebook friends with an ex-partner, publicly available information - such as a profile photo and list of friends - can still provide a rough approximation of the expartner’s ongoing activities.

Recent estimates have suggested that one-half to two-thirds of people have made contact with an ex-partner through Facebook, and that over half admit to having looked through an ex-partner’s photos to find pictures of an ex-partner with a new romantic partner.

Not only is Facebook surveillance of ex-partners relatively common, then, but people who engage in it tend to perceive it as harmless.

Other research suggests, however, that Facebook may facilitate behaviors associated with obsessive relational intrusion - the unwanted pursuit of an intimate relationship, particularly with an ex-romantic partner.

Marshall's study informs us that remaining Facebook friends with an ex-partner and/or engaging in surveillance of their Facebook page results in worse breakup adjustment and growth (than would be experienced in similar offline behaviors), and stunts breakup recovery.

For instance,

Even for individuals who do not engage in relational intrusion, monitoring an ex-partner’s online behavior may increase distress over the breakup and prolong pining for the former partner.

For example, looking at an ex-partner’s Facebook photos may renew desire for the former partner, or it may be upsetting to discover through Facebook that an ex-partner is involved in a new relationship.

For the study, 464 participants were recruited by posting links to an online survey on several psychology survey-hosting websites. 

Participants were required to have a Facebook account and have experienced at least one relationship breakup with someone who also has a Facebook account.

They were surveyed about online and offline contact with their ex, whether or not they were Facebook friends with their ex, and queried as to the frequency with which they checked on their ex's Facebook page and/or status (including checking out their ex's profile photos).

In all, 57% were still 'Facebook friends' with their exes.

The study reported,

Of the people who were not Facebook friends with the ex-partner, 25 percent reported that they had defriended the ex-partner, 12 percent reported that the ex-partner had defriended them, and 6 percent reported that they had never been Facebook friends with the ex-partner at any point in time.

The study found that staying "friends" wasn't the problem:

Contrary to expectations, people who remained Facebook friends with an ex-partner were lower in negative feelings, sexual desire, and longing for the former partner than people who were not Facebook friends.

The problem, it seems, is keeping the ex-partner effectively under surveillance:

(...) In spite of the need for further research, the take-home message from the present study is that keeping tabs on an expartner through Facebook is associated with poorer emotional recovery and personal growth following a breakup.

Therefore, avoiding exposure to an ex-partner, both offline and online, may be the best remedy for healing a broken heart.

This study focused on Facebook, yet we're well aware there are so many other points of social media contact we have with those we care about.

I think the study's messages about breakups, online connections and mental health are equally as important in the context of our contact in and on other social networks.

It's possible the study results suggest that with social media connections, breakups have the potential to be a bit more painful than before.

Easing the pain of heartbreak is no easy feat, especially when social media has us connected and able to "watch" our loved ones like never before.

One thing's for certain: we've got plenty of awful emotional crap to wade through when we have to make breakup decisions around unfriending and untagging, no matter who did the breaking up or why.

But we also need to look at how much Facebook obsessing is part of the healing process before it becomes creepy, or even harmful to others - or becomes an act of self-harm.

Topics: Privacy, Health

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16 comments
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  • Isn't it obvious?

    Did we really need a study for that? :P
    mathiasappel@...
    • Maybe

      Not everything is as obvious as we think it is; nor does obvious tell you exactly how harmful certain behaviors are.
      John L. Ries
    • No, as a matter of fact, it isn't

      Why is it any more obvious than the opposite, that people who do not allow themselves the outlet of passively following their ex, thus easing them out of what had formerly been a rather major routine in their emotional lives, might tend to have a harder time transitioning to a normal state, i.e., getting over it?
      .DeusExMachina.
  • Just in ...

    ... reports show that driving blindfolded leads to more accidents. Read more at www.completelyuselessstudies.com.

    Ludo
    Ludovit
    • Methods

      The most important part of any study is not actually the Results, but rather the Methods section. While lay people (including the press) often jump straight to the Results, or even worse, the Conclusions, none of this has any value without knowing the methods. In particular, dependent and independent variables must be specified, and where necessary, accounted for. Otherwise, the rest of the study becomes meaningless, as alternative explanations can not be ruled out, thus making illegitimate any conclusions reached.
      In this example, a review of the study makes two things clear. First, as this studies population was self-selected, this potentially skews the data. More importantly, however very important variables are not controlled for. In particular, there is no attempt to discern if the people whose scores on the Perceived Relationship Quality Components Inventory and the Breakup Distress Scale indicate a marked downturn in emotional well-being were the such that they would have had those scores regardless. It is certainly possible that the personality types that result in poor scores on the latter test are also the types that engage in this type of Facebook behaviour. In other words, Facebook stalking wold simply be a symptom of the causative issue, not the causative issue itself.
      .DeusExMachina.
      • Wrong reply

        This was meant to be posted on the main thread not as a reply to a specific post.
        ZDN, fix your comment system.
        .DeusExMachina.
  • Study: stalking your ex on Facebook is bad for you

    Its not a matter of being bad for you its all about making the ex's life miserable. If you can stalk them on Facebook you can find out their every move and make it a living hell.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • And this is beneficial how?

      Much better to forgive and move on than to try to punish. The opportunity may even come to woo the ex back, if one doesn't blow it in advance.
      John L. Ries
    • re: Study: stalking your ex on Facebook is bad for you

      Ugh! Disgusting!
      none none
  • Methods

    The most important part of any study is not actually the Results, but rather the Methods section. While lay people (including the press) often jump straight to the Results, or even worse, the Conclusions, none of this has any value without knowing the methods. In particular, dependent and independent variables must be specified, and where necessary, accounted for. Otherwise, the rest of the study becomes meaningless, as alternative explanations can not be ruled out, thus making illegitimate any conclusions reached.
    In this example, a review of the study makes two things clear. First, as this studies population was self-selected, this potentially skews the data. More importantly, however very important variables are not controlled for. In particular, there is no attempt to discern if the people whose scores on the Perceived Relationship Quality Components Inventory and the Breakup Distress Scale indicate a marked downturn in emotional well-being were the such that they would have had those scores regardless. It is certainly possible that the personality types that result in poor scores on the latter test are also the types that engage in this type of Facebook behaviour. In other words, Facebook stalking wold simply be a symptom of the causative issue, not the causative issue itself.
    .DeusExMachina.
    • Something we should have all learned in high school math

      How one approaches the problem is at least as important as getting the right answer.

      Besides... most people determine whether they think a study "got it right" on the basis of what they already believe (if it supports what I already think, it's right; if it undermines it, it's wrong).
      John L. Ries
    • Last two paragraphs

      Address your point. Though I would argue that the author is cautiously but definitely attempting to imply a causal direction. That being said, you can't expect the average person (unable to locate Iraq on a map, does not know that "50% chance of rain" means, and believes that if you flip a fair coin 4 times and get heads each time, the next flip is more/less likely to be heads) to do much with your post, or mine.

      I generally like what Violet Blue has to say, but I agree that her title is misleading. That being said, you have to admit that "Facebook stalking is correlated with less favorable emotional outcomes but may not cause them" will not get much click traffic. Whether stalking makes you sad (which it does, at least in one meaning of the word) or being upset makes you more likely to stalk (which also seems highly possible), the former seems more likely to get someone to think "maybe I should stop" than the latter, unless you're Loverock Davidson or someone who actually takes him or any one on ZDNet seriously.
      Mr. Copro Encephalic to You
      • You don't take anyone on ZDNet seriously?

        Not even yourself?

        I don't take him who must not be named seriously either, but "anyone" is rather broad. There are lots of trolls and fools who post here, but a fair number of reasonable people do so as well.
        John L. Ries
      • You don't take anyone on ZDNet seriously?

        Not even yourself?

        I don't take him who must not be named seriously either, but "anyone" is rather broad. There are lots of trolls and fools who post here, but a fair number of reasonable people do so as well.
        John L. Ries
      • Unfortunately, the last two paragraphs don't address my point

        that being, that no attempt was made in this study to control for independent variables, so any results are essentially meaningless. I am not trying to advocate for any position myself. The point is that no data from this study advances any position.
        More to the point, the last two paragraphs fail to address the specific independent variable I mentioned, namely that people who have serious issues with a break up are also the ones more likely to obsess, whether on fb or climbing the tree outside the exes window and planting surveillance equipment. As such, no conclusion can be reached regarding causation.
        This is basic science 101, and how study authors are able to get funding for this stuff, and publish in peer reviewed journals, never fails to amaze me.
        .DeusExMachina.
  • fb is kinda uncool now

    im done with facebook its not really cool to have it anymore. I mean its become the thing of the past.i dont have it anymore/
    tina1123