The fact of having old flames on one's friend list,
however, is unrelated to commitment level, according to the report
that examined whether conduct on Facebook is something romantic
partners should worry about.
"People are using Facebook and other social media sites to make
romantic connections with people they would entertain having a
relationship with, even if they are in a committed romantic
relationship," said Michelle Drouin, lead author of the paper and a
psychologist at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
Past research indicates that Facebook has been cited in as many as
one third of divorces in recent years, according to Drouin and her
To assess the social networking site's potential role in
relationship issues, the team recruited college students for their
study. All of the 109 women and 39 men were undergraduates and had
The researchers looked at how many Facebook friends each participant
had and asked them to rate on a scale of one to six how likely they
were to initiate or accept a "friend" request from someone they
considered a potential romantic interest.
They also measured participants' level of Facebook-related jealousy
with a 27-item survey assessing how jealous the respondent would be
if his or her partner added a new friend of the opposite sex on
Finally, a questionnaire was used to evaluate participants'
commitment to their current relationship, by having them rate
statements such as, "I am committed to maintaining my relationship
with my partner" and "I want our relationship to last for a very
Drouin and her team found that only connections with potential
romantic partners made while in the relationship — and not before
getting together with one's current mate — were linked to a lower
level of commitment to the relationship.
That is, participants who were less committed to their partners were
likelier to accept and even initiate Facebook friend requests with
people they viewed as romantic interests, the team reports in the
journal Computers in Human Behavior.
But the presence of old flames that remained on one's friend list
even after entering a new relationship was unrelated to the
students' level of commitment to their current partner, as was how
often one "friended" potential mates when single.
Amy Muise, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of
Toronto, Mississauga, who was not involved in the study, offered two
possible interpretations of those results.
"If someone you're attracted to or you have feelings for reaches out
to you, that might lead you to re-evaluate your relationship," Muise
told Reuters Health.
"But more likely, you are already less committed, and so you are
more interested in alternatives" to your current partner, she said.
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The authors acknowledge that their findings among college students
may not apply to older adults who generally use the social
networking site less. They also plan to extend their research to see
how Facebook interactions relate to real-world emotional or physical
The field of Facebook research is relatively new, Drouin noted, so
future studies will be needed to learn more about this and other
questions regarding how social media affect human relationships.
"Facebook is a reason why some people are breaking up, and why
others are getting divorced. A lot more research in the future will
be directed at social networking," she told Reuters Health.
In the age of Facebook, a partner's online presence — and the way
a relationship is represented online — has become a topic that mates
should negotiate early on, researchers said.
"It's about having a conversation, like about other things in the
relationship, about what each person's expectations are," Muise
Potential topics for discussion include if and how each partner
wants the relationship recorded on Facebook, and what the protocol
should be if friended by another potential mate.
"The challenging part is when people disagree on that," Muise said.
The best approach for the virtual world, Drouin said, is to be
honest about what each partner feels is appropriate — just like in
the real world.
"Have an open line of communication with your partner," Drouin said.
"Be honest with each other about what you see as the perils of
Facebook, and make sure you're aware of the potential risks."
Of course, the only surefire way to avoid the potential pitfalls of
Facebook and other social media sites is to stay away from social
networking entirely, she said.
Computers in Human Behavior, online March 18, 2014.
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