Laura’s Psychology Blog

One Professor’s Observations of the World of Psychology….   

February 20, 2010

More Attention for Our Student Facebook Research

It’s always fun to do research, but it’s even more fun when people find what you do interesting. We have had a lot of attention for the Facebook work that our group of stalwart student researchers have done over the last year and a half or so. The most recent recognition comes from HealthDay’s Alan Mozes, with whom I enjoyed a nice conversation this week about our work. Alan asked me to comment on an article in the 2/17 online version of Psychological Science by UT Austin’s Samuel Gosling and his colleagues. The researchers found that people’s Facebook profiles are actually quite accurate.

Our Student Research Continues to Generate Interest

These results, which Gosling said were surprising to their group, were actually quite consistent with our own, which have focused on the relationships between feelings of loneliness and Facebook use by college students. We have found that the image of people constructing some alter ego online that is vastly different from who they really are just hasn’t worked for social networking sites like Facebook. Our participants who are very lonely are not compensating for that by spending more time online or seeking to amass huge networks of friends. Facebook seems to be WYSIWYG, literally.

I suppose the down side of all this attention is that we have to stop tweaking our data (we’ve improved our questionnaires from last year’s APS presentation and are collecting more data and running more analyses) long enough to finalize our papers for publication.  Sometimes it’s hard to fit that in with midterms and grad school apps, but I want the students to really be involved with all steps of the project. Stay tuned!

February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine’s Day/Chinese New Year!

Filed under: autism,Hobbies — Laura Freberg @ 6:15 pm

Just a quick note (due to some painful publishing deadlines this weekend) to wish everybody a Happy Valentine’s Day and a Happy Chinese New Year!

Daughter Karla drew this picture for the Year of the Tiger. Mr. F and I are dragons, which should come up again in 2012. I can hardly wait to see what Karla draws for that!

Karla's Year of the Tiger

If you want to see more of Karla’s artwork (my favorite is her animation of the Florida Gator kicking a Razorback through the goalposts), she has her own website,

February 10, 2010

An Interview with “Calgary Today”

Filed under: General Psychology,Internet,Psychology,Technology — Laura Freberg @ 9:01 pm

Today provided a fun opportunity to discuss our student group’s loneliness and Facebook research with an audience far from home–via Mike Blanchard’s “Calgary Today” show on AM 770 CHQR. Their news producer had asked me to respond to an article in the Atlantic that suggested that the ubiquitous connectedness technology provides today might actually be making us more lonely, rather than less.

I'm the Underlined Part of Mike Blanchard's Show

In my 15 minutes on the air, I tried to explain that the Atlantic had some things correct and others not. Our research confirms the idea that loneliness is highly negatively correlated with the number of self-reported confidants a person has. The fewer the confidants, the higher the person’s score on the UCLA Loneliness Scale (Russell, 1996). We use the full 20 question version, but you can see a short version here. In our regression analysis, the other factor that really pops in predicting loneliness is a person’s total face-to-face time spent with friends and family. Time spent on the cell phone or on Facebook was not significantly correlated with loneliness at all.

Our differences of opinion with the Atlantic occur in the contribution of social media and technology to loneliness. True, during the same decades that people’s reported number of confidants dropped like a stone, there was a steady increase in the use of technology. But our research does not show that people who report high amounts of face-to-face contact are less likely to spend a lot of time on their cell phones and Facebook. This is not an either-or situation. We are dealing with college students of course, and ALL of them seem to spend a lot of time on cell phones and Facebook.

If anything, I suspect that having cellphone conversations and Facebook might actually soften some feelings of loneliness. We just don’t have the data to evaluate this idea yet. One of my daughters just returned from a year’s deployment in Iraq, and felt that Facebook made it much easier for her to feel connected to her friends and family.

One of the callers to the show did make a valid point–some people reduce the quality of their face-to-face time with others by constantly taking cell phone calls in the middle of conversations, etc. But this, to  me, is simply bad manners.

I did enjoy the way Mike moved the conversation along–it was easy, and hopefully entertaining. What really astonished me, as a Californian who bundles up for any temperature under 60 degrees, was the weather report for Calgary that was on while I was on hold before the show. Zero degrees? I just don’t do zero degrees!

February 3, 2010

An Update from the Makers

Filed under: Psychology,Technology — Laura Freberg @ 2:28 pm

A few months ago, I heard from Mark Melnychuk, who represented a group of Canadian journalism students who were in the process of exploring and documenting Maker Culture. Mark asked me what I thought of the Makers, and to be frank, I had to tell him I’d never heard of the movement before. After following some links Mark provided and doing a little digging on my own, I became quite fascinated by this movement. Essentially, these are people who are rejecting things made for them in favor of things they can put together for themselves, whether that is food, clothing, technology, or even science and education.

In their latest installment, the group talks about some of the fascinating projects they’ve encountered, from lattes that represent global warming to jewelry constructed from dried fruit to conducting genetic research on a home computer. The people engaged in maker culture use existing objects and technologies in new and creative ways, putting their own individual stamp on the result.

When Mark originally asked me to respond to Maker Culture from the point of view of a psychologist, my first reaction is that Making might just tap into some evolutionary sense of pleasure at building one’s own cultural artifacts and technology. We do not have any cultures, currently or historically, that did not develop characteristic ways of preparing foods, constructing clothing and shelter, and designing ornaments and tools. Perhaps the universality of these behaviors arises from some hard-wired positive response. We hunt, fish, and tend home gardens when ample food is just down the block at the supermarket. A quick trip to your local hardware store should convince you that people like to do home projects, even if they can afford to pay someone to do it. Gamers build their own from-scratch computers when huge selections of CPUs grace every electronics store.

In addition to the evolutionary reward aspect, it seems to me that Maker Culture also taps into our need to be individual. Anyone can eat at Red Lobster, buy a computer at Best Buy, or a bottle of wine at BevMo. Cultures have become increasingly homogeneous, with Colonel Sanders gracing a street corner in Auckland, New Zealand, and Starbucks in Beijing. Maybe by making something unique for yourself and your loved ones, we recapture that little bit of specialness we call individuality. As I write this, Mr. F is off expressing his individuality by making the ultimate tiramisu. I’m going to have to express my individuality to find a technical solution to sending a very large soundfile off to daughter Karen….What are you going to make?


Quote to Ponder

It is not a lack of love,
but a lack of friendship
that makes unhappy marriages
-------- Nietzsche

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