MySpace profiles subject of new research

February 23, 2009

When it comes to revealing personal details about their relationships on MySpace, a popular social networking Web site, men are far less likely than women to mention a significant other and women are more apt to reference love.

These were among the conclusions that a McDaniel College professor and a student made in their joint research effort to analyze the profiles of 100 MySpace users ages 17 to 29, with a nearly even split of women and men. In their MySpace profiles, users around the world broadcast a varying range of detail about their interests, education level, relationship status and other intimate points of their lives.

“Although many of the historic views of male and female gender roles have changed, it is possible that some of the same traditional ways of forming identities are still practiced but simply in a different setting like MySpace,” wrote the study’s authors, Sociology Professor Lauren Dundes and student Melissa Joy Magnuson ’08. “This preliminary study suggests that women’s identity may still be largely determined by the men in their lives, given their greater propensity for including their significant other in their presentation of self.”

In recent months, Dundes’ and Magnuson’s work has been published in the national journal CyberPsychology & Behavior and cited in others, including the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Their research also is being referenced in a future issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine.

“Although this article was published relatively recently, there are numerous citations of it on search engines like Google,” Dundes said. “Some of the Blog citations have indicated that the article was helpful in readers' understanding of their own lives, which is particularly gratifying given that some of academics’ writing has a limited readership.”

Such student-faculty research projects are a staple at McDaniel College and are an example of the one-on-one collaborations that happen day in and day out around campus. These invaluable experiences allow students to work closely with faculty members who serve as mentors, supervisors and collaborators throughout the projects.

“Researching MySpace ended up being a really great idea because almost no research had been done on it at that point,” said Magnuson, who is a special investigator for Kroll Government Services, which contracts with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

“After doing the research and writing the paper, Dr. Dundes helped me edit the paper down to a size that would work for a journal,” Magnuson added. “She took care of sending out the finished product to all the different journals, and we found out a few months later that we were accepted for publication. It was definitely very exciting for me! Dr. Dundes was very involved with the whole process and was wonderful to work with! It was definitely one of the highlights of my academic career.”

Frequently, such student-faculty research projects lead to students presenting their work at professional meetings around the country or having their work published in peer-reviewed journals that have national circulation.

Kate Maloney, a senior Psychology major, who has been working with Holly Chalk, assistant professor of Psychology, is scheduled to present her research work during next month’s Eastern Psychological Association meeting in Pittsburgh on the topic, “To Seek or Not to Seek Help: The Mediating Role of Personal Attitudes Toward Counseling.”

Chalk said she will also be presenting with several other students on a research project titled, “Easing the Transition: Protective Effects of Self-Esteem and Group Cohesion on Psychological Adjustment to College.”

During the 2007-2008 school year, more than 200 students worked with nearly 50 faculty members to complete such projects as, “The ‘want nots’: Why some individuals reject the myth of technology,” “The Phenomenom of Online Evangelism,” and “Tattoos and their meaning: A study of why people get tattoos.”

Student-faculty research is conducted through course work, special summer opportunities and the senior capstone experience. The research typically involves close work and multiple meetings between students and their faculty advisers.

Many regard student-faculty research work as academically and personally rewarding.

The effectiveness of the college’s student-faculty research program was noted by Loren Pope in his book, "Colleges That Change Lives," in which he wrote that colleges like McDaniel have “a faculty of scholars devoted to helping young people develop their powers, mentors who often become their valued friends.”