Nervous about a job interview or blind date? A new study suggests that you might want to skip the Facebook stalking ahead of the big day, especially if you have social anxiety.
Facebook “stalking” is something every user of the social media site has done at some point — browsing through profiles of friends, acquaintances, and sometimes even complete strangers. It’s possible to gather a great deal of information about a person by spending just a few minutes on his or her Facebook page.
When you’re anticipating meeting someone for the first time, trying to learn more about her by checking out her Facebook profile may seem like a good way to calm jitters. But a recent study by psychologists at Benedictine University in Arizona concludes that the opposite may be true – that the behavior known as Facebook stalking may in fact make people more nervous before a first meeting.
“If your goal is to calm yourself for the face-to-face encounter, Facebook is probably not the best strategy,” said assistant professor of psychology and study lead author Shannon Rauch.
For the study, Rauch and her colleagues tested 26 female undergraduates for social anxiety, and a week later divided them into four groups. Participants were hooked up to monitors that measured electrical signals on the skin. One group saw a person’s Facebook page, another group saw the person in the room, another group saw the person’s Facebook page and then saw them in the room, and the final group saw the person in the room and then looked at Facebook.
The result was that the group who perused the person’s Facebook page before the live encounter showed higher arousal than any other group. Rauch was careful to note that the study measured arousal levels and not stress hormones. However, she believes the heightened arousal indicates that the Facebook encounter ahead of the live meeting had a negative impact – if the effect had been positive, she said, it would have calmed arousal levels.
The increased arousal level was most notable in participants who scored higher on the social anxiety test administered at the outset of the study. The results go against previous beliefs that getting familiar with a person online may be a useful way for those with social anxiety disorder to ease into face-to-face interactions.
Rauch hopes that in future studies, she will continue to contribute to the growing body of research on how social media is impacting our social interactions and our lives.