Researchers link mental illness with Facebook behaviors

Don't be surprised if your therapist asks to look at your Facebook profile.

Can social-media activity be used as a tool in psychological diagnosis? The jury's still out, but a study from researchers at the University of Missouri found a link between social anhedonia and a decrease in Facebook activity, which suggests that therapists can use patients' Facebook profiles to better understand their mental illnesses.

The study, "Social networking profile correlates of schizotypy," looked at the Facebook profiles and activities of 211 college students who were scored on their social anhedonia, perceptual aberration, and magical ideation, extraversion, and paranoia tendencies. Social anhedonia is the diminished experience of positive emotion for social stimuli. Perceptual aberration and magical ideation are psychotic-like distortions and unusual beliefs.

The study concluded that people who score higher on the social anhedonia scale have fewer Facebook friends, fewer photos of themselves, and take longer periods of time to communicate with friends than others. The researchers did not find any correlation between social anhedonia and the volume of wall posts from friends. Meanwhile, the study authors also noticed a strong positive link between extraversion and the number of Facebook friends, number of self photos, and number of wall posts by others.

The findings imply that therapists will be able to glean more about patients by reviewing their Facebook activity instead of relying on self-reports.

"The beauty of social-media activity as a tool in psychological diagnosis is that it removes some of the problems associated with patients' self-reporting," Elizabeth Martin, study leader and a doctoral student in MU's psychological science department, said in a statement. "For example, questionnaires often depend on a person's memory, which may or may not be accurate. By asking patients to share their Facebook activity, we were able to see how they expressed themselves naturally. Even the parts of their Facebook activities that they chose to conceal exposed information about their psychological state."

Realistically, the correlations discovered will require additional research before they affect the psychological diagnosis process. Still, we may not be too far off from the day when therapists start asking patients to hand over their Facebook profiles.

"I think it will be a long time before this sort of information can be interpreted systematically and reliably by clinicians," Jason G. Goldman, Ph.D. candidate in developmental psychology at USC, told CNET. "There are statistically predictive relationships between Facebook-related engagement and both a measurement of social anhedonia as well as extraversion, but all you've got are correlations...it's more like a first step -- a hint that there might be something interesting to keep poking at."

Social networking profile correlates of schizotypy

 

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