Study: Social networks reflect, rather than influence, social development

A recent University of Virginia study suggests the online behavior of users of social-networking web sites reflects their childhood social development more than it influences this development, reports the Cavalier Daily. The research group, led by psychology professor Amori Mikami, found that the way well-adjusted teenagers held relationships with one another was similar to the way they interacted with peers on Facebook and MySpace eight years later. A group of 172 students, ages 13 or 14, was used in the study. Their social tendencies and activities were recorded for use eight years later. The researchers reconnected with the now 20-year-old subjects to ask if they used Facebook or MySpace. If they did, the researchers sent the subjects “friend” requests so as to document their behavior. The researchers concluded that well-adjusted students used social-networking sites in ways that reflected their face-to-face interactions. Conversely, children who had behavioral problems at a young age were more likely to use networking sites negatively, such as posting nude photographs of themselves or being hostile to other users. Though some parents worry that social-networking sites preclude their children from normal social behavior, the study suggests those fears are largely unfounded. “The take-home message of the study is that youth might be using Facebook and MySpace just to display the same orientations that they do in face-to-face interactions,” Mikami said. “It is just a new medium to express the social patterns they have already developed.”

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