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Feb. 16, 2011

The Science of Facebook "Stalking"

by April Garbuz

By April Garbuz, Wilton High School

It is no secret that we spend hours searching Facebook and other social networking sites. We sign on to Facebook with the intention of checking our notifications, and that quickly develops into hours of clicking through profile pictures and reading wall-to-walls. Why do we spend so much time compulsively tracing people’s lives through Facebook? A study that monitored the emotional responses we have while navigating Facebook suggests there is a scientific reason it is so addictive.

Kevin Wise, an assistant professor of strategic communication at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, designed a study to explore Facebook habits by observing people in action, rather than relying on surveys and logs. Wise’s study included hooking 36 undergraduate students up to facial EMG sensors that measured when they responded favorably to stimulus. He attached sensors to the muscles around his students' eyes then asked them to use Facebook for five minutes while a screen-capture device documented where they clicked.

Wise grouped the subjects' actions into two categories: social browsing and social searching. By his definition, social browsing is searching the site without a targeted goal in mind, while social searching is searching the site with the goal of finding specific information focused around a person, group, or event.

The results showed that the subjects spent most of their time social searching, which creates an intimacy between the searcher and the searched, and gives the searcher a front row view of the searched friend's life. The EMG data showed that people reached the most pleasure from this social searching.

So what does this mean? The addictive quality of “stalking” a Facebook friend is directly linked to the emotional stimulation we get when we feel connected to peers. Tracking our friends' lives through Facebook is more than just a procrastination method; it is a pleasure-stimulating activity.

__________

April Garbuz is a sophomore at Wilton High School in Wilton, CT. She loves studying science, debating, acting, and swimming. April wants to be an epidemiologist and be active in the medical field.

About April Garbuz

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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