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Grieving On Facebook Can Provide Temporary Relief: Study

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A new study shows that students who use social networking sites to mourn the victims of school shootings and cope with emotional repercussions may feel better in the short run, but will remain unaffected in the long term.

The study, released in late September by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, details the results of a study in which Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois students were asked whether and how they used Facebook to work through their grief two weeks after the respective campus shootings.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the authors, University of Illinois Ph.D student in social-personality psychology Amanda Vicary and U of I associate professor of psychology R. Chris Fraley, were surprised to find that there was no study examining the way internet-usage factored into expressions of grief.

After Vicary saw her friends react online to the Virginia Tech shooting, she decided to undertake the research herself, according to a release from the University of Illinois. Two weeks after the shooting, she sent Facebook messages to 900 students and asked the 124 respondents to rate how communicating via Facebook had made them feel after the tragic events. After another six weeks, she asked the students to reassess their psychological well-being, and tested to see how Facebook usage affected students with PTSD and depression two months later. She conducted a similar study with 160 NIU students after five were killed, and 18 injured, by a gunman in 2008.

Using the results of both studies, Vicary found that 71 percent of respondents were depressed and 64 percent suffered from PTSD two weeks after the tragic occurrences. Almost 90 percent joined at least one Facebook group, and more than 70 percent had changed their profile pictures to memorial ribbons. On a one to five scale (five meaning students felt "a lot better' and one "a lot worse") students generally wrote that joining a Facebook group increased their emotional well-being by 3.57, and posting shooting-related messages on a Facebook wall by 3.72.

The second round of questioning revealed that most students had started to recover from PTSD and depressive tendencies, but that the improvement was not significantly correlated with activity on Facebook.

Have you used Facebook or similar sites to deal with tragic events? Let us know.