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expert reaction to inappropriate Facebook use, anxiety and low self-esteem

Scientists explore the link between adult attachment and problematic Facebook use in new research published in BMC Psychology.


Prof Stephen Scott, Professor of Child health and behavior, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London and consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital, said:

“This is a cross-sectional paper taking people who chose to respond to an online survey. It purports to show that a certain attachment style, i.e. with anxiety and avoidance, predicts self-reported Facebook use to manage other people’s impression of them, as well as intrusive Facebook use. The paper’s introduction is thoughtful in being aware of direction of effect issues, and yet the authors then seem to ignore their own cautions and make unwarranted assumptions about causality.

“Unfortunately, they didn’t have any general measure of social anxiety, which a host of other studies show affects all aspects of social relationships. This includes feeling secure in the affection and respect and love of other important people, as well as a need to seek affirmation on the internet through social media such as Facebook. So the study shows in a very self-selected sample that people who are anxious about ‘attachment’ relationships are also anxious users of Facebook. It would be almost surprising if the opposite were true, and there was no association so that people change their anxious style when they went on Facebook.

“A further caution is necessary: as in all internet studies we have to be very circumspect about drawing any generalisable conclusions since we have no idea of the number of people asked to respond to the survey, which may well be hundreds of thousands. Therefore whilst it is good to have 717 responses, this may be only a few per thousand of Facebook users, so may be an extremely skewed sample. For example it could be very anxious sample who responded, whereas if the authors carried out a representative population sample the association could be much weaker.

“On the positive side, the article does highlight that there are a number of people who are anxious users of social media, and this can become an organising factor in their lives, making things considerably worse for them.”


Prof Peter Tyrer, Professor of Community Psychiatry, Imperial College London, said:

“’This is an interesting study that shows very clearly that those who use Facebook inappropriately have anxiety in social relationships and low self-esteem. It is of interest that most are female. As the study is a cross-sectional one we have no idea whether the attachment anxiety is temporary or of long-standing, and we cannot determine the cause.

“The most likely explanation is that those with high attachment anxiety are more likely to use Facebook inappropriately but it is possible that excessive use of Facebook contributes to greater feelings of personal insecurity. This can only be determined by longitudinal studies.”


* ‘An exploration of the link between adult attachment and problematic Facebook use’ by name of Flynn et al. published in BMC Psychology on Friday 10th August. 



Declared interests

Prof Steven Scott: “No declarations of interests”

Prof Peter Tyrer: “I have absolutely no conflicts of interest.”

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