The way you share information on Facebook reveals more than you think.
In a recent study, Yeslam Al-Saggaf and Sharon Nielsen of Charles Sturt University in Australia argued Facebook users who felt lonely were more likely to post personal information, like their relationship status and hobbies, than users who felt connected.
At the same time, lonely users were less likely to share opinion-based information like their religion and political views.
Al-Saggaf, an associate professor of information technology, and Nielsen, the director of the quantitative consulting unit in the School of Computing and Mathematics, published the study in Computers and Human Behavior, a peer-reviewed journal.
In an email to The Huffington Post, Al-Saggaf suggested lonely users might not wish to share political and religious views for fear those views may be unpopular.
“On the other hand," he wrote, "they shared their relationship status, address and interests, hobbies and favorite things so like-minded people or those living nearby could approach them, allowing them to minimize their feeling of isolation."
For the study, Al-Saggaf and Nielsen limited their subjects to 616 female Facebook users, arguing that gender would not have an influence on the results. Al-Saggaf added that the research was part of a second, as yet unpublished study that looks at how data mining could threaten the privacy of female Facebook users.
Half of the women used in the study had expressed feeling “connected” in their latest wall post, and half expressed feelings of loneliness. The researchers then looked at how each type of user shared 11 “personal information attributes," such as relationship status, contact information and favorite books and movies.
The results showed that more than 79 percent of lonely users shared a variety of personal information, while less than 65 percent of connected users did the same. Connected users also were almost twice as likely to share no personal info at all:
In fact, in nearly all categories, connected users were less likely to share information.
Dr. Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University and a HuffPost blogger who has explored the link between Facebook use and symptoms of psychiatric disorders, agreed with the findings of the study.
“I do believe that if you spend a lot of time on social media and you read about how people’s lives look great, then you may infer that your life sucks," he said. “But I can also see [this situation]: You feel depressed, you get online, you reach out to friends, you feel less depressed. I’m not sure they’re mutually exclusive.”
This study contributes to the growing body of research suggesting that Facebook use is a double-edged social sword -- one that can simultaneously alleviate symptoms of depression and loneliness in some and cause them in others.
Last year, for example, a study found that poring over details of friends’ vacations, romantic milestones and work successes on Facebook can cause feelings of envy, loneliness and depression. And yet, “actively posting on Facebook is one of the key ways to attract emotional support [and] promote feelings of being accepted and appreciated by others,” Hanna Krasnova, an assistant professor at the University of Bern in Switzerland and a co-author of the study, told HuffPost.
All three researchers agreed it's impossible to lump Facebook users into easy, definitive categories. But a clearer picture of how and why we use the social network could eventually help contribute to better mental health for us all.