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Study finds adults may use Facebook to fulfil attachment needs

Authors asked Facebook users to complete questionnaires, which measured depression, self-esteem and attachment avoidance

ADULTS whose close relationships are characterised by high levels of insecurity may use Facebook in problematic ways in an attempt to fulfil their attachment needs, s study has found.

Researchers from the School of Psychology at NUI Galway found this was especially the case with those with low self-esteem or when people experience high levels of psychological distress such as anxiety, stress, or depression.

The authors asked more than 700 adult Facebook users to complete a series of online questionnaires, which measured depression, self-esteem, attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety along with aspects of the respondents' specific Facebook use.

They then investigated possible links between attachment avoidance - avoiding intimacy and closeness in personal relationships; attachment anxiety - fearing rejection and being overly dependent in personal relationships; and problematic patterns of Facebook use.

This included use that has been previously linked to low mood and low self-esteem, such as compulsively looking at others' photos and over-sharing personal information.

The study found that those people with high levels of attachment anxiety were more likely to engage in social comparison on Facebook, and were more likely to disclose personal information when in a heightened emotional state. In addition to this, these individuals were more likely to use the site intrusively, such that it impacted upon their sleep, work/study, and social relationships.

Lead author Dr Sally Flynn from NUI Galway said the study was the first to apply attachment theory to better understand why people might engage with Facebook in problematic ways.

"Our findings suggest that Facebook may be used by some to fulfil fundamental attachment needs, especially for those with low self-esteem, who are experiencing psychological distress," she said.

"A person who disclosed their personal problems on Facebook when in a heightened emotional state may feel even worse if they are disappointed by the quantity and quality of the feedback that they receive from their online peers."

Co-author Dr Kiran Sarma said the research did not suggest there was something damaging about Facebook.

"Rather, some people network online in ways that could be considered maladaptive, increasing distress and vulnerability," he said.

:: To read the full study in BMC Psychology, visit: https://bmcpsychology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40359-018-0245-0.

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