Social-networking giant Facebook has evolved into a breeding ground for personal spats among college couples who closely watch how their partners interact with friends, according to a recent study.
Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, documented the suspicions that arise among men and women when they track each other’s Facebook communications, showing that the web site — despite the newfound prevalence of university public relations and college course groups — is foremost a central part of many students’ social lives.
Alice Connors-Kellgren reportedly was surprised, for example, by her boyfriend’s new Facebook profile picture a few weeks ago: He was kissing another girl on the cheek.
The picture was up only briefly. And she figures it was just a friend. But she plans to discuss it with him when they’re back together this fall at Cornell University.
“We trust each other. Deep down, I know nothing is going on. But when you first see it, it’s like `Oh my goodness! What’s going on here?'” says the college student from Westchester County, N.Y.
All this friending, poking and picture-posting on Facebook can get you in trouble with your significant other. Couples are finding that old flames and flirty friends on the social networking site have a unique ability to stir jealousy and suspicion.
Jealous types now have to deal with brand-new kinds of provocations, such as a comment on their partner’s wall from a possible romantic rival, or their loved one getting tagged — identified — in a picture from an old relationship. Boyfriends and girlfriends can view all of this on their partners’ walls.
“It seems like Facebook is creating jealousy even where there was not jealousy to begin with,” said Amy Muise, a doctoral candidate at the University of Guelph’s psychology department who led a recent study on how Facebook can spark jealousy in romantic relationships among college students.
She said Facebook doesn’t necessarily make people more jealous than they would be normally. But all the information divulged on Facebook — those answers to “What’s on your mind?” and reactions to those posts — can increase “triggers” for jealousy.
“Part of the issue with information on Facebook is that it lacks certain context, ” Muise said, “so there could be things posted on your partner’s wall that you really don’t know what it means.”
The study was based on anonymous online survey data from 308 undergraduate Facebook users, three quarters of them women. The study, published in CyberPsychology & Behavior, found Facebook users can get snagged in a “feedback loop”: Their interest piqued by a cryptic wall comment, they become suspicious and start monitoring their partner’s pages, thus finding even more suspicious information.
Dan Fitzsimmons, a 21-year-old University at Albany student, said he has had to explain Facebook photos to girlfriends in the past.
Samantha Siciliano, an incoming freshman at Quinnipiac University from North Adams, Mass., said she has become jealous over the back-and-forth on her old boyfriend’s wall, especially from too-friendly comments like “You look cute.”
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