Faculty-student research on Facebook users to be published

Communication & Cinema Professor Robert Lemieux, junior Sean Lajoie, and senior Nathan Trainor.
February 11, 2013

The professional journal, Psychological Reports, will publish a collaborative research paper by two Communication majors and their professor that indicates that Facebook may serve as an outlet for individuals who are lonely and avoid social situations.

The study, conducted in the fall of 2012 among 313 McDaniel students by junior Sean Lajoie and senior Nathan Trainor with professor Robert Lemieux, explored the relationship between use of the social networking site Facebook and scores in affinity-seeking, social loneliness and social avoidance.

Lemieux includes data collection and analysis in his Communication Scholarship class to help his students realize that generating knowledge that becomes accepted by others is a challenging endeavor.

“It’s a nice warm-up for the demands of the real world as it provides them with the tools to formulate a project, write persuasively, and interpret data,” says Lemieux, who already had collected data on the topic that was added to by the students’ study. “And, of course, they get excited about seeing their names in print.”

While Lajoie of Mount Laurel, N.J., and Trainor of Manchester, Md., are thrilled to be published authors of a professional paper before graduation, they both rate as even more important what they learned about data collection and interpretation.

“I learned just how much goes into these studies – how many questionnaires you have to make and distribute, how much data you need to collect, and really just everything that goes into making an intriguing quantitative study,” says Trainor, an aspiring sports journalist whose role was to help Lajoie, the primary researcher.

Lajoie’s favorite part of the study was testing his hypotheses about the social networking site that he says is, with Twitter, the main vehicle of communication for his peers. The results showed that degrees of social loneliness and social avoidance correlated positively and significantly with how much time people spent on Facebook. People who are lonely and avoid social situations rejected fewer friends – and women perceive Facebook as more important than men do.

The study also uncovered some information that surprised the researchers.

“The questionnaires that I distributed provided a few eye-opening responses – one being the average number of minutes spent on Facebook each day. There was a small group that said they spent three-plus hours on Facebook daily,” says Lajoie, who is also considering a career in sports journalism. “Another thing that caught my eye was the average answer of how many of your Facebook friends are considered close friends being surprisingly low.

“I also learned about how many people have such high senses of anxiety or apprehension in face-to-face conversations. There was an alarming amount of people that preferred communicating via social networking as opposed to communicating in person. Many participants even admitted to spending more time on Facebook than they knowingly should and holding more back when faced with a conversation in person.”