From ‘likes’ to unfriending: the need to belong and relational information on Facebook

PhD Thesis


Machin, Tanya M.. 2016. From ‘likes’ to unfriending: the need to belong and relational information on Facebook. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.
Title

From ‘likes’ to unfriending: the need to belong and relational information on Facebook

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorMachin, Tanya M.
SupervisorBrownlow, Charlotte
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages299
Year2016
Abstract

Humans are fundamentally social creatures, interacting with other people through face-to-face interactions and through the use of social media. According to the theoretical framework of the need to belong, interactions that are stable across time, and provide support and encouragement are necessary for people to psychologically thrive. Therefore, threats to belonging pose a serious issue. Theoretically, when a person experiences a threat to their belonging, this then results in preferential processing of social cues relevant to relational information. While copious amounts of research have investigated the social cues that guide face-to-face interactions, to date, very little research has explored the social cues that provide relational information on Facebook, currently the largest social networking site. Therefore, the overall aim of this program of research is to use a mixed-method design to explore and understand the social cues that impart relational information on Facebook, specifically the social cues that indicate potential rejection and acceptance.

From the Study 1 qualitative findings, there were a number of social cues identified which underpinned 3 main themes of relational information, that is, social inclusion, social exclusion, and social comparison. Study 2 demonstrated that the social cues identified in Study 1 were generalisable to a wider population. Together, these results highlighted specific social cues, such as ‘likes’ which provided relational information relevant to both rejection and acceptance. Furthermore, Study 2 also identified four different motivations that people have for using Facebook, as well as establishing that need to belong and age are significant predictors for these motivations.

Finally, Study 3 took an innovative approach regarding experimental design and Facebook, with the development of artificial Facebook pages that incorporated the social cues identified in Studies 1 and 2. This then enabled investigation into the salience of the social cues after participants received either a threat to their need to belong or an affirmation of their relational worth. There were no differences found between the two conditions and the recall of social cues and neutral information. Furthermore and contrary to theoretical expectations, when the social cues were further broken down into social cues of rejection and acceptance, only Experiment 2 demonstrated a significant difference between the two conditions and the recall of social rejection cues.

This thesis uniquely contributes to new knowledge in a number of ways. Firstly, this research provides comprehensive information regarding the identification of social cues that communicate relational information on Facebook. Additionally, Study 2 provides compelling evidence of the need to belong as a predictor of the motivations for Facebook use. Moreover, this research offers a unique method of investigating social cues on Facebook through the development of artificial Facebook pages. Finally, this program of research extends the existing literature on the need to belong and social monitoring to the on-line social environment, and subsequently finds that the very nature of the on-line environment means that the available social cues may be more subtle and more complex than ever imagined.

Keywordsneed to belong, social cues, social monitoring, Facebook
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020460806. Human-computer interaction
520599. Social and personality psychology not elsewhere classified
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Psychology and Counselling
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