The Facebook Affair
Technology and romance may go hand in hand. Recent research shows that the more technology couples use to connect, the closer their relationships.
“Generally we find that in a relationship, the more forms of technology you use to keep in touch with somebody, the closer you tend to be to that person,” said Andrew M. Ledbetter, associate professor of communication studies. “Theoretically then, adding on more technology to a relationship would lead people to have a closer relationship.”
Of course Ledbetter leaves room for cases where technology becomes a distraction in relationships.
“If [people are] playing World of Warcraft all the time or is so engrossed in the technology that they are ignoring their romantic partner, that could be detrimental. But if they are communicating with each other, there’s a lot of potential for benefit.”
In the research, Ledbetter worked with 123 couples ages 18-75 to determine how romantic couples differ in attitudes and use of communication technology — namely e-mail, social networking sites and instant messages — as well as how those social technologies are associated with relational closeness.
“I had this theory that part of what makes it satisfying to communicate with each other is if we have similar attitudes toward the technology,” he said.
If both partners like email, both will be satisfied with email communication. He predicted that if one partner doesn’t like email that could lead to conflict.
Research results showed that couples tend to possess some similarity in their attitudes about communicating online — regardless of the length of the relationship. In addition, a person’s media use with a partner is influenced by both his own attitude toward communicating online as well as the partner’s attitude.
Ledbetter’s research paper, entitled “Online Communication Attitude Similarity in Romantic Dyads: Predicting Couples’ Frequency of E-Mail, Instant Messaging, and Social Networking Site Communication,” was published in the 2014 issue of Communication Quarterly.
In the research results, Ledbetter was surprised to find that relational closeness of the couple didn’t predict frequency of face-to-face, e-mail or instant messaging communication, but it did predict frequency of social networking site communication. In other words, Facebook successfully predicted couple closeness.
“Part of the implication of this study has to do with media multiplexity theory, which suggests that basically the more communication media we use, the closer we are to the person that we’re communicating with,” Ledbetter said.
“The fact that Facebook is the only medium that emerged as predicting that closeness is kind of interesting,” he said. “I think it also serves to debunk the popular notion that communicating online might be detrimental to certain types of relationships, when in fact this study and other studies suggest there are positive relational benefits that often accrue when communicating through technology.”
Another study that Ledbetter conducted involving Facebook also builds on the media multiplexity theory. The research results were published in the 2014 issue of New Media & Society
“I’ve done a few studies on Facebook now, and consistent with other theory and research, it seems that Facebook — when we are looking at specific relationships at least — tends to increase the closeness or quality of the relationship,” Ledbetter said.
—Rachel Stowe Master