According to soon-to-be-published research from professors at Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, browsing Facebook lowers our self control. The effect is most pronounced with people whose Facebook networks were made up of close friends, the researchers say.
People who spent more time online and who had a high percentage of close ties in their network were more likely to engage in binge eating and to have a greater body mass index, as well as to have more credit-card debt and a lower credit score, the research found. Another study found that people who browsed Facebook for five minutes and had strong network ties were more likely to choose a chocolate-chip cookie than a granola bar as a snack.
In a third study, the professors gave participants a set of anagrams that were impossible to solve, as well as timed IQ tests, then measured how long it took them to give up trying to solve the problems. They found people who spent more time on Facebook were more likely to give up on difficult tasks more quickly. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment.
Why are we often so aggressive online? Consider this recent post to this column's Facebook page, from someone I don't know: "Why should I even bother writing you? You won't respond."
We're less inhibited online because we don't have to see the reaction of the person we're addressing, says Sherry Turkle, psychologist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of the social studies of science and technology. Because it's harder to see and focus on what we have in common, we tend to dehumanize each other, she says.