Published on 07/12/2022
Social media

• A novel experimental task measuring behaviour on a social networking site identifies key differences between passive, reactive and interactive usage

• 526 users were observed on the mock platform to monitor usage according to frequency of likes, shares, and scrolling

• More interactive users reported greater social connectedness and social capital

Researchers at Aston University have developed a new experimental task, involving a mock social networking site, which grouped people into three distinct styles of social media use—passive, reactive and interactive.

Led by Dr Daniel Shaw and Dr Charlotte Pennington in the School of Psychology, at Aston University, the new findings also suggest that interactive users reported greater feelings of social connectedness than passive or reactive users.

Despite the wealth of research into the psychological impact of social networking site (SNS) usage, inconsistent findings have prevented any firm conclusions from being drawn. While some studies have concluded that social media usage was associated with increased social connectedness and reduced loneliness, others reported detriments to loneliness and wellbeing with greater use of such platforms.  

In their new work, published in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers administered the Social Networking SiteBehavior Task (SNSBT) online to 526 individuals, who also completed questionnaires on their levels of loneliness, sense of belonging, social connectedness, online social capital and answered questions about their Facebook usage and friendship network. 

The SNSBT grouped users into three discrete groups depending on how often they clicked “Next,” “Like,” or “Share” on 90 images presented to them on the mock SNS. On average, passive users, about 39% of those in the study, clicked “Next” most often (on 85% of images). Reactive users, 35.4% of the study, most often clicked either “Next” (59% of the time) or “Like” (36% of the time). Interactive users, 25.7% of participants, mostly clicked “Like” (51% of the time) or “Share” (20% of the time).

Analysis of the data revealed that interactive users had, on average, more Facebook friends, spent more time on Facebook, and reported greater feelings of social connectedness and social capital than passive or reactive SNS users. However, this study could not determine if any causal or directional link between these factors exists. The researchers are planning to carry outfurther work in this area. 

The authors concluded that the simple SNSBT tool they developed, now publicly available, could help researchers quantitatively differentiate between different SNS usage styles and overcome the limitations of self-report data, enhancing future research in the field of cyberpsychology.

Dr Daniel Shawsaid: “This study introduces a new tool with which researchers can measure different styles of engagement on social networking platforms and indicates that our style of engagement can be more important for our psychological wellbeing than the amount of time we spend on social media.”

Dr Charlotte Pennington added: “Individuals displaying more interactive styles of usage on our platform reported stronger feelings of social connectedness and social capital compared with those who showed more reactive or passive behaviour. Our team has developed the first mock social networking site that can be used to measure natural styles of usage, free from the ethical concerns that arise when people log into their own phones.”


For more information about studying psychology at Aston University please visit our course pages and for information about the School of Psychology please visit our website.

Notes to Editors

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a university since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiary groups – students, business and the professions, and the West Midlands region and wider society. Located in Birmingham at the heart of a vibrant city, the campus houses all the University’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Aleks Subic is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

In 2022 Aston University was ranked in the top 25 of the Guardian University Guide, based on measures including entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects. The Aston Business School MBA programme was ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking.

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Rebecca Hume, Press and Communications Manager, on (+44)7557 745416 or email: r.hume@aston.ac.uk

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Sue Smith, Head of Press and Communications
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