The study was conducted by Michelle Drouin and Daniel Miller of Indiana University-Purdue University and Jayson Dibble of Hope College, and it involved a series of tests on participants to determine which of the two was the bigger threat to existing relationships – romantically desirable Facebook friends, or the memory of possible threats. As it turned out, Facebook friends weren’t that much of a threat to committed relationships, and were not considered in general as alternative partners. However, thinking of alternative partners was deemed a factor in lowering the satisfaction in a couple’s relationship and commitment levels to the current partner.
Participants in the study were all unmarried young men and women, all undergraduate students, and according to Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking Journal Editor in Chief Brenda Wiederhold, the results may not be generalized when it comes to older married couples, but “comparing the power of technology versus the impact of our internal memories on interpersonal relationships” is very important.
Regarding the demographics of the 371 participants, the students averaged 21.67 years of age, and almost 90 percent of them were Caucasian. All of the participants were in committed relationships, 95 percent of them heterosexual, 2 percent homosexual, and 3 percent bisexual; the relationships averaged 32.34 months at the time of the survey. They were divided into groups and asked to identify potential sexual and committed relationship partners, one group spotting them from their Facebook contacts, the other from their memory of their social circles. Both groups were also asked to rate their current relationship in a series of questions, and to gauge how ideal their relationships were. One key question involved whether they would be “doing fine” if they weren’t dating their current partners, meaning seeing someone else whom they found appealing.
According to the researchers, the biggest takeaway from the study was how the recognition of potential alternatives through Facebook somehow lowered their “perceptions of the quality of their alternatives.” Those who had recalled more alternatives through the social networking sites had, in general, rated their quality of alternatives as being lower. On the other hand, those who had recalled alternatives from memory weren’t as satisfied with their current relationships and the commitment level involved.
But why would someone in an unsatisfying relationship tend to pick more potential replacement partners from their memory, and not from their Facebook friends? The researchers believe that those who picked from a list of Facebook friends may have averaged their potential partners’ desirability when answering the questions, while those who relied on memory “probably recalled only the few salient alternatives in their social spheres.” It was also theorized that the participants in the Facebook group may have wanted to have a sexual or committed relationship with someone currently not on their Facebook friends list.
Results of the study are available free on the Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking online journal, and will remain posted until October 30,2015.