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People with many Facebook friends share this questionable trait

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Susan Devaney
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Have hundreds of friends on Facebook? It might reveal something rather unsavoury about your personality, says new research…

We all know people who have an enormous network of “friends” on Facebook - but according to a new study, this might not be a wholly good thing.

The study published in the journal Heliyon identified a positive link between greater Facebook friends and materialism.

Researchers found that materialist people tend to have significantly more Facebook friends and use the platform more intensively than those who are less interested in tangible possessions. Materialists apparently view their multiple Facebook friends as “digital objects”, and use the social media site to gauge their wealth and success. 

Sociologists from Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany conducted online questionnaires with 242 Facebook users, aged between 17 and 51. They found strong links between high levels of materialism and intense Facebook activity.

All of the participants were asked to indicate how much they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements in relation to their everyday activity on the social media platform, such as: “having many Facebook friends contributes to more success in my personal and professional life”. They also responded to statements on consumer habits, such as, “I usually only buy the clothes I need”.

“Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends – they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possession,” said lead author Phillip Ozimek.

“Facebook provides the perfect platform for social comparisons, with millions of profiles and information about people. And it’s free – materialists love tools that do not cost money!”

Materialists view their Facebook friends as capital, according to the new study

The study’s researchers developed something called a Social Online Self-Regulation Theory to explain the results. This states that people use social media channels as a benchmark for their own goals and achievements; an effect that becomes more pronounced, the more materialist someone is. 

But, the researchers were keen to emphasise that social media can be a positive tool.

“Social media platforms are not that different from other activities in life – they are functional tools for people who want to attain goals in life, and some might have negative consequences for them or society,” Ozimek explained.

“We found that materialists instrumentalize their friends, but they also attain their goal to compare themselves to others. It seems to us that Facebook is like a knife: it can be used for preparing yummy food or it can be used for hurting a person. In a way, our model provides a more neutral perspective on social media.”

Recent studies have shown that the average Facebook user has around 155 friends. So, if you have more than that then…

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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