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According to scientific studies, your wellbeing, your opinions and even your weight are shaped by your social networks. Now many of these factors are broadcast online. How do they affect us?
Nicholas Christakis, physician, social scientist and professor at Yale University, has explored how our face-to-face social networks affect everything we think, feel, and do. Our extended networks shape a wide range of phenomena such as our attitudes and emotions, lifestyles and goals. It is not surprising that he argues that in fact our social networks can shape us in a very literal sense, having a direct impact on our weight.
A recent study has demonstrated that Facebook use can influence our emotions and sense of wellbeing. According to this research overuse of Facebook can lead to depression due in part to the pact that it does not truly fulfil our human need for social connection.
Online we can interact with others on the surface but we are doing it at arm’s length and through the use of representations by which we normally seek to present ourselves in the best possible light.
If we are consumed with manipulating representations of our daily lives and ourselves in communication with others, a negative impact in the way we feel about our comparatively boring lives and imperfect bodies is a natural consequence. This process may also alienate us from the very people we’re communicating with.
Considering that it has been proven that our social networks can influence our emotions as well as the shape of our bodies, it would not be surprising to find evidence that they can also have an impact in our weight. However, there are many factors to consider in how our weight might be affected by our online engagement.
Interaction on Facebook involves a constant exercise of self-evaluation. How we interact with others depends on how we write to them, what images we post, what we choose to “like”, and so on. We act as self-aware editors of our profiles, moderating and evaluating the material we share. As a result, we interact on Facebook through a large number of distorted representations, we see only what others want us to see, missing many traits of face-to-face interactions such as gestures, posture, tone of voice and even pimples, pores and body fat amongst others.
In addition, on Facebook we tend to interact with many people through our lists of contacts, groups, forums, apps or pages who otherwise would be not included in our social circle offline, which according to Dunbar would be naturally limiting to around 150 contacts. In many cases, we end up treating our representations as public or semi-public adding to the complexity of the decision “to share or not to share”.
How our interactions on Facebook can shape our weight is an open question.
Interactions through carefully crafted multimedia material could spark our vanity and help us to keep in better shape. However, if it has indeed been shown that Facebook use is not precisely good for our self-esteem, a negative outcome seems to be quite probable.
Christakis, N., & Fowler, J. (2007). The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years New England Journal of Medicine, 357 (4), 370-379 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsa066082
Xygalatas, D. (2010). Nickolas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler (2009), Connected: The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How they Shape our Lives, Little, Brown, New York, NY. 353 pages. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 10 (3), 401-403 DOI: 10.1163/156853710X531267
Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, Lin N, Shablack H, Jonides J, & Ybarra O (2013). Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PloS one, 8 (8) PMID: 23967061
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