Your Facebook bragging – don’t get me wrong, mine too – is causing people to roll their eyes.
But in addition to the social costs of sharing your child’s latest accomplishment or checking in at Miami’s Cipriani restaurant – those examples are digs at myself, in the event we’re not Facebook friends – your boasting could also cause you to spend too much money.
New research shows that our overly positive profile pages have the power to make us feel so good about ourselves, we’ll afterward believe we’re permitted to buy things we probably shouldn’t, said Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School – or even spend more money than we had intended.
It happens mostly to people with a high ratio of close friends in their networks who frequently browse and post on the social network. Those of us with many distant people in our contacts aren’t as affected.
“The side effect of Facebook is you have poor ability to control your spending,” Wilcox said. “Momentary enhancement of your self-esteem leads to entitlement, and that leads to poor self control.”
It all stems from the unrealistic pictures we paint of ourselves, Wilcox said, noting we almost never post our missteps or disappointments. So your profile page gives you an over-inflated sense of self.
Psychologically it’s been proven, he said, that when we humans feel we’ve done something good, we’ve earned a license to do something bad.
“The interesting thing about Facebook is that (the people posting are) not actually doing anything good,” Wilcox said. “But they’re misinterpreting the feeling they get.”
He discovered this with surveys and experiments, asking people about the number of close Facebook friends versus distant friends and then asking half the subjects to watch CNN, half to browse their Facebook pages.
Then those people were asked to participate in a supposedly unrelated study on consumer values, in which they’d bid on a new iPad. The person with the highest offer would have the opportunity to buy the device.
People who’d been on Facebook with lots of close friends in their networks bid highest; separately, they also reported higher credit card debt and lower credit scores. Those who’d watched CNN bid similarly to those with distant friends in their networks.
“You’re reminding yourself about the image you’re projecting to people,” Wilcox said. “There’s positive parts to having healthy self esteem, but there’s also a dark side.”
Offline, Wilcox said, people have a tendency to be more modest because bragging in person generates immediate – and negative – social feedback. But Facebook doesn’t show you eye-rolling – only the “likes” that encourage you to keep the status updates coming.
“A ‘dislike’ button would change the dynamic,” Wilcox said.
It all makes perfect sense to social media psychologist Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology California State University-Dominguez Hills and author of “iDisorder.” He says the narcissistic feelings Facebook provides can actually change the chemistry in our brains, stimulating the production of feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.
“Those transmitters stay around, so it makes sense that you would afterward spend more money,” Rosen said. “You’re feeling good.”
You can, however, reset your brain back to normal after browsing Facebook by performing simple tasks such as looking at nature, having a positive conversation with a friend, taking a warm shower, laughing at jokes, or practicing a foreign language, Rosen said.
“They activate the default mode network,” Rosen said. “And those neurotransmitters are reabsorbed. Your brain is not as anxious or craving reinforcement and pleasure.”
We could also – if you ask Christopher Null, who contributes regularly to PC World and Wired magazines – brag a little less on Facebook. Problem is, we use our close friends to reference the acceptable number of posts and, well, that could be a mistake. On vacation, he suggests posting one album of several pictures at the end of the trip or one photo a day versus multiple daily posts.
“It’s like the modern day slide show,” he said. “How dreadful was that?”
More tips from Null:
Sure, your new baby is adorable, but a sleeping infant from a dozen angles is not compelling photography. Show people online only what you’d share from your wallet – one picture a month.
And the maximum food photos anyone should post is zero, Null said, unless you’re in a cooking show or you’ve fashioned the cupcakes into a Leaning Tower of Pisa.
If you’ve won an award, a text announcement beats a picture of your Lucite trophy. And if your kid scores the winning run, friends don’t need a video of the whole game – at max, it should run five minutes.
If you’re at a dinner party, new etiquette dictates asking your host before you post, as surely some people had been excluded from the guest list.
“That’s the problem with Facebook. People don’t seem to know what’s interesting anymore.”
Brett Graff is a former U.S. government economist and the editor of thehomeeconomist.com, where she reports on the economic forces affecting real people.