The Couple Who Facebooks Together, Stays Together: Facebook Self-Presentation and Relationship Longevity Among College-Aged Dating Couples
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The Couple Who Facebooks Together, Stays Together: Facebook Self-Presentation and Relationship Longevity Among College-Aged Dating Couples

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7 Pages
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Drawing on public commitment theory, this research examined the association between Facebook self-presentations of coupledom and relationship longevity among college-aged dating partners. Using a longitudinal design and a path model analytic approach, this study shows that Facebook self-presentational cues (i.e., being listed as "in a relationship," posting dyadic photographs, writing on the partner's wall) were associated with an increase in relationship commitment for dating couples, which, in turn, increased their likelihood of remaining together after 6 months. Contrary to predictions, the number of mutual Friends and the number of posts written by partners on participants' walls were negatively related to relationship commitment. This study is the first to apply public commitment theory to an online romantic relationship context, and one of the few to examine the effects of Facebook on the state and fate of romantic relationships.
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The Couple Who Facebooks Together, Stays Together: Facebook Self-Presentation and Relationship Longevity Among College-Aged Dating Couples
ARTICLEinCYBERPSYCHOLOGY, BEHAVIOR, AND SOCIAL NETWORKING · JULY 2015
Impact Factor: 2.18 · DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2015.0060 · Source: PubMed
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CYBERPSYCHOLOGY, BEHAVIOR,ANDSOCIALNETWORKING Volume 18, Number 7, 2015 ªMary Ann Liebert, Inc. DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2015.0060
O A RIGINAL RTICLES
The Couple Who Facebooks Together, Stays Together: Facebook SelfPresentation and Relationship Longevity Among CollegeAged Dating Couples
Abstract
Catalina L. Toma, PhD, and Mina Choi, MS
Drawing on public commitment theory, this research examined the association between Facebook selfpresentations of coupledom and relationship longevity among collegeaged dating partners. Using a longitudinal design and a path model analytic approach, this study shows that Facebook selfpresentational cues (i.e., being listed as ‘‘in a relationship,’’ posting dyadic photographs, writing on the partner’s wall) were associated with an increase in relationship commitment for dating couples, which, in turn, increased their likelihood of remaining together after 6 months. Contrary to predictions, the number of mutual Friends and the number of posts written by partners on participants’ walls were negatively related to relationship commitment. This study is the first to apply public commitment theory to an online romantic relationship context, and one of the few to examine the effects of Facebook on the state and fate of romantic relationships.
Introductioninfluence others, selfpresentation has the important side effect of influencing how selfpresenters viewthemselves. elationship theoristshave long noted that the success The intrapersonal outcomes of selfpresentation are the Rwhich argues thatpurview of public commitment theory, of romantic relationships depends in large part on couples’8 social environments. For instance, the longevity of romantic people come to view themselves in ways that are consis relationships is affected by the extent to which friends and 1–3tent with their public claims. For example, after publicly family are aware of and approve of them. In recent years, the claiming to be extroverted, people believe themselves to be social environment inhabited by romantic couples has been8,12 book, the largest SNS, userFs typicoally rreveal4detaRiled inferpovroceiss kenown awsinternalizOation(inn falct, tyhe theory is more extroverted. The shifting of the selfconcept to substantially altered by social network sites (SNSs). On Face match public selfpresentations is a largely unconscious mation about their romantic involvements to audiences12,13 5,asometimes referred to as ‘‘identity shift’’ ). Internaliza consisting of hundreds of Friends. Additionally, social norms 7tion occurs because deeply engrained social norms pre dictate that SNS communication is positive and affirming, scribe that people be who they claim to be. Therefore, public enabling users to attract support for their relationshiprelated statements psychologically obligate people to fulfill them. postings. How does this new social environment, characterized commitment) and fate (i.e., likelihood of staying toogetherr)?tRheir attietudes tpo martch thoeir bedhaviorsu,14orcthetbehiavioor–n Indeed, the mechanism behind internalization is similar to by publicness and social validation, affect couples’ state (i.e., that behind cognitive dissonance, whereby people change This study addresses this question using public commitment 8attitude consistency norm, whereby people feel pressured to theory, which focuses on the effects of public selfpresentations15 be consistent in their behaviors and expressed views. In all on individuals’ selfviews. We focus on dating relationships prime developmNental stoage ftornegIotiatning rtomanetic relnademditment tfheoroy hasrreceivedDampleisupsport itnribution cases, there is a powerful urge to match private beliefs with among collegeaged adults because this demographic are at a public behaviors. 9Public com tionships and are also heavy users of SNSs. the context of personality traits (e.g., extraversion, sociabil ity, emotional stability), with individuals claiming to possess A public commitment framework for couples’ these traits in front of real or imagined audiences believing Facebook selfpresentation themselves to actually possess them more than individu 8,12,16–19 Selfpresentation is the act of editing the self in order to als who lacked an audience. However, the literature 10,11 convey a desired image to an audience. While meant to is limited in that it has only considered selfpresentational
Department of Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.
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claims related to personality traits and shortterm effects, In sum, we propose that the frequency of posting the with internalization measured immediately after the self abovementioned selfpresentational elements is associated presentation took place. Can the public commitment framework with an increase in individuals’ commitment toward their be extended to selfpresentations that pertain to romantic romantic partners (H1). In turn, this increased commitment relationships, and to longterm effects? should produce a stabilization of the relationship, with more committed couples more likely to endure over time. Indeed, the link between relationship commitment and relationship Facebook selfpresentation and romantic commitment26–28 duration is well established, particularly among young 29,30 We argue that it can. Public commitment is defined as adults in dating relationships. Therefore, we hypothesize ‘‘a pledging of self (a) to an action; (b) to a person, group, or that relationship commitment will serve as a mediator be 8(p21) organization; or (c) to an idea.’’ Romantic coupledom tween Facebook selfpresentations of coupledom and rela can be conceptualized both as a pledging of self to another tionship longevity (H2). person, and to the idea of being in a relationship. As dis cussed, Facebook selfpresentations tend to be highly public, Method thus meeting the criterion for internalization. Further, they are recordable and salient for long periods of time. ThroughParticipants and procedure repeated exposure, internalization may become deeply roo Participants were 212 undergraduates at the University of ted and long lasting. Wisconsin–Madison, who were currently involved in a Several selfpresentational elements on Facebook shouldb geographically close dating relationship. Only heterosexual induce public commitment toward one’s romantic partner. students were invited to participate in a study of ‘‘romantic First, Facebook allows users to associate with romantic relationships and media use.’’ Participants were recruited partners by listing themselves as ‘‘in a relationship’’ and through advertisements posted on the department of Com linking to their partner’s profile. Relationship listing on Fa munication Arts’ subject pool Web site, and were compen cebook is so meaningful for today’s dating couples that it has sated with extra credit in their classes. received its own colloquial nomenclature, ‘‘going Facebook 20A longitudinal design was used, where Facebook self official.’’ Research shows a connection between relation presentation was hypothesized to correlate with participants’ ship listing on Facebook and relationship functioning: More commitment to their partner measured during a lab ap committed and satisfied couples are more likely to declare 21,22pointment (time 1) and their likelihood of remaining together themselves ‘‘in a relationship.’’ 6 months after the lab appointment (time 2). A second option for broadcasting one’s romantic in At time 1, participants filled out a questionnaire with de volvement on Facebook is via photographs depicting the mographic and relationship measures. Then, they were asked selfpresenters with their partners. These dyadic photographs to log into their Facebook profile and use the freely available are a potent display of merged identities, as they illustrate ‘‘Friendship’’ application on themselves and their partner. joint activities and often affectionate behavior. The fre This application generates a joint profile for any pair of quency of posting dyadic photographs has been shown to Friends, on which it displays the Facebook information correlate with relationship satisfaction for both married and 23shared by these two individuals (e.g., number of mutual dating couples. Friends, numbers of dyadic photographs). A research assis Third, Facebook enables romantic partners to conversec tant copied this information into an Excel file, without cation serves the purpose ofFaffirmoing torgethernesRs, witheoneview Only publicly with one another by posting messages on their re downloading the joint profile. spective walls. Focus groups indicate that public communi Thirtytwo participants were unable to use the application because they or their partners were not Facebook users, re participant memorably stating that it is the ‘‘ultimate form of 22(p531)ducing the sample size to 180 (78.3% women;Mage=20.01 PDA.cause everyone can see it.’’ years,SD=1.92; 83.9% white, 12.8% Asian, 2.8% other). Fourth, Facebook allows users to declare publicly which The excluded participants did not differ from the rest of the events they attended, what interest groups they are affiliated sample in terms of relationship longevity,t(164)= 1.28, the same events, groups, and networks, they coan bre conRt(206)=e2.16p,p<r0.05.oduction with (e.g., ‘‘Cat lovers’’), and what networks they belong to p=n.s., but reported lower relationship commitment, (e.g., high schools, universities). When partners partake in Six months later, participants were asked via email ceptualized as having joint affiliations, an indicator of to whether they and their romantic partners were still together. getherness. Research in facetoface settings shows that Participants were reminded of the initials of the partner on and family.3,24Not Intenpdants reespondedd tothefemaoil, arrateconsiDstentiwithssimiltarribution participating in social activities together affirms romantic whom they previously reported. Eighty percent of the partici partners’ coupledom by gaining the recognition of friends 32,33 studies. There were no differences between participants Finally, Facebook allows users to accrue mutual Friends. who responded and those who did not in terms of any of the Research shows that closer and more stable romantic part variables reported in this study. ners have more friends in common, a situation referred to as 25 network embeddedness. While couples may not be pur Measures posefully accumulating Friends for selfpresentational pur poses, this systemgenerated cue enables them to visualizeRelationship commitment.This was measured using the their own network embeddedness, and therefore may lead relationship commitment subscale of the investment model 34 them to understand themselves as part of a social unit, bound scale (7 items; e.g., ‘‘I am committed to maintaining my together by common relations. relationship with my partner,’’ ‘‘I feel very attached to our
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Table1.Means and Standard Deviations for Allrelationship (M=15.22 months,SD=14.76; because rela the Continuous Variables in the Path Modeltionships that have already stood the test of time may have a higher chance of endurance). M SD Results Relational commitment* 5.69 1.02 Number of dyadic photographs 50.06 82.99 Analytic approach Number of participantinitiated wall posts 1.05 2.07 Number of partnerinitiated wall posts 0.67 1.29 The hypotheses were tested through a path analysis con 38 Number of joint affiliations 7.65 18.70 ducted with the Lavaan package in R. Since the endoge Number of mutual Friends 126.67 146.92 nous variable in the model (i.e., relationship longevity) was binary, we used the maximum likelihood estimator with ro *Measured on a scale from 1=‘‘not at all committed’’ to bust standard errors (MLR), which can handle nonnormal 7=‘‘extremely committed.’’ 38 39 data. A test of joint significance was used to examine the mediating effect of relationship commitment. See Table 2 for a partial correlation matrix between all variables, after relationship—very strongly linked to my partner’’). Items controlling for gender, age, and the length of the romantic were rated on a scale from 1=‘‘not at all’’ to 7=‘‘extreme relationship. ly.’’ High reliability was achieved (a=0.85), and a confir matory factor analysis revealed a onefactor structure. The Hypotheses testing relationship commitment score was normally distributed. Our primary goal was to examine whether Facebook self Relationship longevity.This was operationalized as presentation of coupledom increased relationship longevity whether the relationship endured until the 6 month check among collegeaged dating couples by enhancing relation point (yes/no). A total of 76.4% of the participants were still ship commitment. To test this prediction, a path model was together with their partners, while 23.6% had broken up, a generated with the hypothesized Facebook cues entered as 35 rate consistent with prior research. exogenous variables, relationship longevity as an endoge nous variable, and relationship commitment as a mediator Facebook cues.The following cues generated by the (see Fig. 1). Gender, age, and relationship length were en 40 ‘‘Friendship’’ application were recorded: (a) whether par tered as covariates. Based on Kline’s cutoff criteria, the 2 ticipants were listed as ‘‘in a relationship’’ with their ro model demonstrated excellent fit with the data—v(6)= d mantic partners ; (b) the number of photographs in which 4.07,p=0.67; RMSEA=0.00 [90% confidence interval both participants and their partners were tagged; (c) the 0.00–0.09]; CFI=1.00; GFI=0.97; TLI=1.15; WRMR= number of comments posted by participants on partners’ wall 0.43—and explained 35.7% of the variance in the endoge e during the last month (i.e., participantinitiated wall posts); nous variable, relationship longevity. (d) the number of comments posted by partners on partici The following Facebook cues were positively associated pants’ wall during the last month (i.e., partnerinitiated wall with relationship commitment: relationship listing, number posts); (e) the number of mutual Friends; and (f) the total of dyadic photographs, and number of participantinitiated number of networks (e.g., high schools, universities), groups, wall posts. Contrary to expectations, the number of mutual and events in which both partners were enrolled (i.e., joint Friends and of partnerinitiated wall posts were negatively For Review Only affiliations). Descriptive statistics for these variables are associated with relationship commitment. Joint affiliations presented in Table 1. were not significantly related to relationship commitment. H1 was therefore partially supported. Covariates.Consider now the mediational role of relationship comThese included gender (because women’s mate selectivity is different from men’s in ways that may mitment between Facebook selfpresentation and relation 36 affect relationship longevity), age (because younger peo ship longevity. The preceding analyses demonstrate that ple’s relationships tend to be shorter, less committed, and some Facebook cues were related to relationship commit or Reproduction 37 more likely to breakup ), and the length of the romantic ment. Further, relationship commitment had a direct and Table2.Partial Correlation Matrix for the Variables Used in the Path Model Not Inte1n2de3d f4o5r6Di7st8ribution After Controlling for the Covariates(N=144) 1. Relationship listed on Facebook 2. Number of dyadic photographs 0.22* — 3. Number of participantinitiated wall posts 0.21* 0.33*** 4. Number of partnerinitiated wall posts 0.15* 0.61*** 0.61*** — 5. Number of joint affiliations 0.07 0.150.09 0.08 6. Number of mutual Friends0.16 0.060.050.05 0.16 7. Relationship commitment 0.37*** 0.26** 0.20* 0.11 0.150.15 — 8. Relationship longevity 0.27** 0.12 0.13 0.05 0.20*0.01 0.43*** — *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001.
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FIG. 1.Path coefficients for all the hypothesized relationships in + the model.p<0.10;*p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001.
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positive association with relationship longevity. For a one their partners, shared dyadic photographs, and wrote mes unit increase in the relationship commitment score, the odds sages on their partners wall, the more commitment they of the couple staying together after 6 months increased by experienced. Consistent with public commitment theory, 39 50%. According to the test of joint significance, H2 was these publicly posted cues likely induced participants to supported. None of the covariates reached statistical signif perceive themselves as part of a romantic unit, thus ce icance. See Figure 1 for all the path coefficients in the model. menting the relationship. Despite our theoretical predictions that Facebook self However, several selfpresentational elements did not op presentationaffectserate in the predicted way. First, the number of mutual Friendsrelationship commitment, it is possible that itreflectscouples’ preexisting commitment. That is, was negatively associated with relationship commitment. This couples who are more committed are more likely to create could be the case because more mutual Friends signal a larger the types of selfpresentations examined here. To investigate social network and, thus, the availability of many alternative this competing possibility, we generated a path model with romantic partners. Indeed, the investment model of relation 41,42 relationship commitment as the exogenous variable, rela ships proposes that the more alternative partners are tionship longevity as an endogenous variable, and Facebook available, the less committed individuals feel toward their 40 the data—v(16)=639.58F,p=0.o00; RrMSEA=R0.53 [9e0%vpostsiwrietten bywparticipantsOon thenir plartneyrs wall. This cues as mediating variables. Following Kline’s cutoff cri existing partners. Second, posts written by partners on par teria, this alternative model showed an unsatisfactory fit with ticipants’ wall diminished relationship commitment, unlike 2 confidence interval 0.43–0.50]; CFI=0.54; TLI=0.20; double standard could occur because participants interpret WRMR=partners’ wall posts as a sign of possessiveness, or over03.95. Therefore, we conclude that the data are consistent with the claim that Facebook selfpresentation sharing, but their own as a sign of commitment. Finally, joint affects, rather than is affected by, relationship commitment affiliations were not associated with relationship commitment. or Rparticipaent andphis/hrer parotner atdtendeduthe sacme etvenits, itoisn among collegeaged dating couples. These cues are not displayed straightforwardly on Facebook profiles. For instance, in order to determine whether both Discussion necessary to click on each event and scroll through the list of Romantic relationships do not exist in isolation. Rather, attendees. Due to their decreased visibility, these cues may not Not Intended for Distribution they are affected by the social context in which they are exercise psychological effects. Future research is required to embedded. In recent years, Facebook has changed this social test these possibilities fully. context by, among others, allowing couples to make public Despite these unexpected findings, the general pattern of claims about their relationship. This study investigated how results advances public commitment theory in meaningful these public selfpresentations of coupledom shaped indi ways. The present study represents the first application of viduals’ commitment toward their romantic partners, as well this theory toromanticselfpresentations, thus extending its as the fate of the relationship. boundaries to a new and important selfpresentational do Results show that the public association between the self main. It is also the first to demonstrate the temporal endur and a romantic partner generally boosted Facebook users’ ance of public commitment effects. relationship commitment, which, in turn, increased their This study also advances the literature on the effects of likelihood of staying together after 6 months. The more Facebook on romance by suggesting a causal order of the 20–23 participants listed themselves as ‘‘in a relationship’’ with variables under scrutiny. While previous literature has
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2 used correlational or qualitative methods to suggest that tained similar results—v(5)=2.91,p=0.71; RMSEA= Facebook activityreflectsrelationship characteristics (e.g., 0.00 [90% confidence interval 0.00–0.07); CFI=1.00; more committed couples are more likely to list themselves as GFI=0.99; TLI=1.13; WRMR=0.40. The model ‘‘in a relationship’’), this is the first study to indicate that explained 29.5% of the variance in the endogenous Facebook activity might alsoaffectvariable, relationship longevity. We decided to reportrelationship character istics. In fact, the path analysis suggests it is more likely that the path model, rather than the SEM, because our Facebook selfpresentation was associated with changes in sample size was below that recommended for running 40 the way partners experienced their romantic relationships, SEM. rather than it merely reflected this experience. Acknowledgments Limitations and future research The authors are grateful to Amelia Gordon and Samantha Several limitations need to be acknowledged. First, this Hersil for their help with data collection, and to the Hamel study’s focus was on premarital, dating relationships among Family Foundation for their financial assistance. heterosexual collegeaged adults. Future research should examine individuals across life stages and relationship types. Second, selfpresentation is only one aspect of Facebook useAuthor Disclosure Statement in the context of romantic relationships, along with partner 43No competing financial interests exist. monitoring and the maintenance of backburner relation 44 ships, for instance. How do selfpresentations of couple dom fit into this larger ecology of Facebook use? What is theReferences net effect of these different aspects of Facebook use on ro 1. Baxter LA, Widenmann S. Revealing and not revealing the mantic commitment and longevity? 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