Dr. Andrew Stephen, University of Pittsburgh – Social Media and Self-Control

Apr 18, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Andrew Stephen of the University of Pittsburgh explains how your behavior may be influenced by social media connections. 

Andrew Stephen is an assistant professor of business administration and the Katz Fellow in Marketing in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh. His research focuses on understanding the causes, types, and consequences of complex social interactions in marketplaces. His current research examines phenomena such as social networks, word-of-mouth, social media, social commerce, and mobile advertising. He holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

About Dr. Stephen

Read the full article

Dr. Andrew Stephen – Social Media and Self-Control

My coauthor and I set out to investigate the effect that using the popular social network Facebook would have on users’ self-control. To investigate that question, we conducted several studies with a total of about 1,000 U.S. Facebook users.

In one study, we had participants either check Facebook or read news articles on CNN.com for five minutes, then choose between eating a granola bar or a chocolate chip cookie. And we found that those who’d browsed Facebook were more likely to choose the cookie.

Our conclusion from this is that you get a boost of self-confidence from going on Facebook and feeling you have close ties to all these people, and that undermines your self-control. So you log off Facebook and you feel good about yourself, and that could make you feel okay about choosing the cookie instead of the healthier option, the granola bar. This is called the licensing effect. It’s been observed in a number of other instances, but ours is the first paper to show that using online social networks can affect self-control.

We also conducted a survey asking for participants’ height and weight, how many credit cards they owned, how much debt was on them, and how many friends they had offline. The results suggested that people with strong ties to their Facebook friends who use social networks more have higher body-mass indexes, increased binge eating, lower credit scores, and higher levels of credit-card debt.

This result, that using Facebook may have a detrimental affect on people’s self-control, is potentially important because self-control is an important tool for maintaining well-being and social order. This finding could help researchers and policy makers understand which consumers might be vulnerable to the potentially negative consequences of social media.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.