Young Adults’ Online and Offline Interpersonal Relationships

Master's Thesis, 2014

97 Pages, Grade: 4.0













Appendix A: Flyer
Appendix B: Study Research Information Sheet
Appendix C: Informed Consent
Appendix D: Demographic Information Sheet
Appendix E: Interview Questions
Appendix F: Approval Letter from the Smith College Human Subjects Review Committee


1. Participant SNS Usage

2. Participant SNS Usage - Median

3. Participant SNS Usage - Mode


The present study sought to learn about the ways in which young adults who are avid

social networking site users (SNS) build and maintain interpersonal relationships given the ways in which social media shapes how young adults connect. This research explored how experiences via SNS such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tinder played a role in one’s online and offline relationships.

Inclusion criteria included being between the ages of 18 and 30, being an English speaker, logging onto SNS at least 10 times per day, and being able to speak in person or on the phone for one hour. With a sample of twelve young adults, the majority of participants identified as Caucasian, 9, and female, 9, with a mean age of 24.3.

The study concluded that the majority of participants' relationships with friends originated offline via in-person encounters. Offline relationships were strengthened due to online SNS activity due to SNS's ability to connect long distance friends and family members, post photos online that increased offline engagement, reinforce positive aspects of offline relationships, and deepen one's personal development offline. Participants also noted the ways in which SNS adversely impacted their relationships offline, including trust, embarrassment, and exclusion. The findings also showed a gender-specific pattern, revealing that all three male participants used SNS as a tool for developing businesses; the women never spoke about using SNS to assist in the development of a business but, rather, spoke only about using it exclusively as a social environment and tool.


I would like to thank my devoted research advisor, Kelly Mandarino, for her ceaseless encouragement throughout the duration of this thesis. Kelly made herself available to me at all hours of the day whether it was by email or Skype, assisting me to further dive into my material when I needed it, whist at the same time encouraging me to take a step away from the work when it felt necessary. Kelly was a true teammate throughout this process, and I am grateful to her dedication and enthusiasm.

Thank you to my family and loved ones for simply being present and with me throughout this journey. I feel so blessed.

Lastly, thank you Evan, for having to listen to all of my tribulations and for supporting me with love every step of the way. Thank you for always believing in me.

CHAPTER I Introduction

The purpose of this study was to answer the following question: How do young adults who are avid social networking site (SNS) users build and maintain interpersonal relationships? I became curious about young adults’ perceptions of the ways in which social networking sites play a role in their ability to build and maintain interpersonal relationships. As young adults continue to increase the amount of time they spend on social media websites, it is important to explore their types of involvement in social media and their ability to create meaningful online or offline relationships. A national poll conducted by the Common Sense Media (2009) found that young adults log on to their favorite social media sites more than ten times per day. This gives evidence that a large part of “social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet” (O'Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011, p. 800). Having worked with young adults in a clinical internship, it became evident to me that social media is changing and shaping how young individuals are connecting with one another. What sparked my interest during my first year clinical placement were the ways in which these SNS continually came up in conversation with a client population of young adults. I found that SNS would be casually mentioned throughout sessions.

One reason for conducting this study was to offer a deeper understanding of the experiences of young adults’ SNS usage and their ability to initiate and maintain interpersonal relationships. As young adults continue to increase the amount of time spent on SNS they are affected either positively or negatively, which may have some effect on their ability to create meaningful relationships. As a group, young adults make particularly heavy use of technology (Kolmes, 2012). Kolmes (2012) states that over the past several years “the practice and profession of psychology ha[s] been greatly influenced by digital culture and social media” (p. 606). Kolmes (2012) discusses clients who use SNS, stating that “young adults on social media sites are usually crafting identities for particular digital audiences” (p. 610). Thus it is important to examine how current technological shifts influence clinical social work practice, as SNS are becoming a standard means of interacting with others. It is imperative that clinicians gain a deeper understanding of how clients’ use and experience of SNS play a role in young adults’ offline and online relationships, and the building and maintenance of those relationships. I conducted this study by interviewing a sample of twelve young adults, defined as men and women aged 18 through 30 (Correa & de Zúñiga, 2010) who were avid social networking site users. I defined an avid user as an individual who logs onto SNS at least ten times per day (Common Sense Media, 2009). At the beginning of the interview, I introduced myself to the participant, briefly described my study, and then continued to use my interview guide to collect data. I focused on social networking sites (SNS) as I have found that the majority of research on social media use has solely focused on social networking sites (Acar, 2008, Zywica & Danowski, 2008). I defined SNS use as the consumption of digital media or Internet that provides a mechanism for communication, interaction, and connection through the virtual use of a user profile (Correa & de Zúñiga, 2010). Examples of SNS’s included Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace, but were not limited to these. I chose to utilize Self-Psychology, some of which includes self- love, self-esteem, including grandiosity and inadequacy, self-objects, and twinship (Keiffer, 2012). I believe that this theoretical lens has helped to make sense of the phenomenon of online relationships and identity shaping and the ways it affects young adults. Interpersonal relationships will be defined as social associations, connections, or affiliations with two or more people (Jenkins-Guarnieri, 2013). Examples of this include friendships, romantic partnerships, and colleagues with whom there is a reciprocal relationship.

In order to begin a study of my own, it was crucial that I explore theoretical and empirical literature that helped shape my understanding of this topic, as well as recognize where there may be gaps.



The general investigation of this literature review will explore young adults’ use of social networking sites (SNS) and their interpersonal relationships. I will use Self Psychology as a theoretical lens for my study, as I believe that this theory has helped to illustrate online and offline relationship building and maintenance. I seek to explore young adults’ use of SNS, how they build and maintain interpersonal relationships, and their orientation of their own self- esteem.

Adolescent and Young Adult Development

Erik Erikson (1964) developed a psychosocial timeline that looked at the developmental life stages over the course of a person’s life cycle (Berzoff, 2008). It is important to note that Erikson’s developmental model is framed from a North American perspective; the stages of development vary from culture to culture and do not always align. Erikson (1964) theorized that the “ego itself is shaped and transformed, not only by biological and psychological forces but also by social forces” (Berzoff, 2008, p. 99). His theory suggested that people are constantly changing and evolving over the course of their entire lives. Erikson’s Epigenetic Stages include Infancy, Early Childhood, Play Stage, School Age, Adolescence, Young Adulthood, Adulthood, and Old Age (Berzoff, 2008). For the purposes of this study, I will focus on adolescence and young adulthood.

Erikson (1964) states that during adolescence, there is a tension between identity and role confusion. There is a transition from childhood to adulthood where individuals are feeling more independent, questioning one’s own identity, struggling with social interactions, and grappling with moral issues. This is a time when adolescents ask themselves who they are. Erikson (1964) suggests that adolescents must integrate a basic sense of trust, a strong sense of independence, competence, and control over one’s life. During this stage, the most significant relationships are with peer groups. Individuals who receive reinforcement and validation during this stage will develop a strong sense of self. Erikson (1964) states that completing this stage leads to fidelity, which he described as “the ability to sustain loyalties freely pledged in spite of differences in values” (Berzoff, 2008, p. 112).

When individuals are in the young adulthood stage, there is a struggle and tension between intimacy and isolation (Berzoff, 2008). In order to achieve intimacy in relationships during this stage, one must have “mutuality, which requires the ability to lose oneself and find oneself in another without losing one’s identity” (Berzoff, 2008, p. 112). When an individual’s identity is not solid, his/her attempt at intimacy may lead to isolation and fear of a committed relationship, because “when identity is shaky, attempts at intimacy become desperate attempts at delineating the fuzzy outlines of identity by mutual narcissistic mirroring: to fall in love often means to fall into one’s mirror image” (Berzoff, 2008, p. 112). Berzoff (2008) states, “for people whose identities are fragmented, rigid, or brittle, the capacity for real intimacy may be limited or impossible” (p. 113).

The virtue of this stage is love, which Erikson (1964) refers to as, “the strength of the ego” to be able to share identity with another individual while maintaining a separate self (p. 113). It is during this developmental stage that a young adult is eager to amalgamate their identities with their peers. As the phenomena of SNS increases, the availability for individuals to share information about themselves increases dramatically, providing more opportunities for individuals to feel more connected to others. SNS offer an opportunity for young adults to instantly feel connected and supported by others.

History of Social Networking Sites

According to Boyd and Ellison (2008), the first recognizable social network site launched in 1997, and was called SixDegrees. The website allowed users to create an individual profile and list their friends. SixDegrees was the first SNS to combine lists of Friends from AIM, AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, an instant messaging server, and, promoting itself as a tool to “help people connect with and send messages to others” (Boyd & Ellison, 2008). Following this, AsianAvenue, BlackPlanet, and MiGente were created. These websites allowed users to identify Friends on their personal profiles. Shortly after, the next wave of SNS were created in 2001, beginning with Ryze, a website created to “help people leverage their business networks” (Boyd & Ellison, 2008, p. 215). From here, LinkedIn and Friendster were produced in 2002 “as a social complement to Ryze” (p. 215), however, “in the end, Ryze never acquired mass popularity, LinkedIn became a powerful business service, and Friendster[‘s]…” popularity declined due to “technical difficulties, social collisions, and a rupture of trust between users and the site” (p. 216). From 2003 onward, a new term, “Yet Another Social Networking Services,” or YASNS, was coined by social software analysis Clay Shirky. During the year 2003, SNSs were launched to help “strangers connect based on shared interests,” “focus on business people…help activists meet…connect travelers to people with couches…join Christian churches with their members” and so on (p. 216). MySpace began in 2003; it was originally created to promote and advertise local musicians and bands. Soon after, MySpace added new features such as personalizing pages and began attracting a larger demographic including “musicians/artists, teenagers, and the post-college urban social crowd” (p. 217). In 2004, Facebook was designed and targeted towards individuals connected to a college network, however it later expanded to include high school students, and then became “open” for anyone to join (Boyd & Ellison, 2008). Realizing the power of social networking, Google implemented Google+ in 2011 that allowed users to video chat with online friends. The world of social networking is continuing to evolve. Judging from recent SNS developments, one could predict that SNS will continue to further expand.

Social Networking Site Usage and Interpersonal Relationships Individuals today are experiencing a new type of interpersonal communication. As discussed by Bowker and Moorman (2011), there has been a recent shift away from traditional routes of communicating interpersonally to a more “digital approach to maintaining and establishing relationships” (Moorman & Bowker, 2011, p. 2). Epstein (1983) suggests that young adult “interpersonal connections are needed to foster and develop positive social skills and that reciprocal relations promote positive mental health and psychological adjustment” (Epstein, 1983, p. 153).

Adolescence and young adulthood are developmental periods in which social networks and cohesive groups of peers are forming. The development and maintenance of healthy interpersonal relationships, particularly in young adulthood are focused on peer relationships and intimate relationships. Given the developmental significance of identity development and establishing intimate friendships and dating relationships during young adulthood, it is important to consider the ways in which these interpersonal relationships develop.

Interpersonal relationships exist between two or more people who engage in social associations with one another (Cavazos, 2010). According to an article in Time magazine, “challenges in life may feel less daunting to people with close interpersonal relationships,” as those who have close emotional connections feel a sense of “safety and security that reduces

stress” (Cavazos, 2010, p. 1). According to McKenna and Bargh (2000), in a recent poll of 1,000 Internet users, “64% said that ‘using an online Internet service is a necessity to me’” (D’Amico, 1998, p. 1). The drastic growth of the Internet has made it possible for individuals to connect with others and has inadvertently shaped the way in which individuals are connecting with one another. A large portion of social interaction is now taking place on the Internet, where people resort to interpersonal communication via the Internet as a “quick and easy way to maintain contact with family and friends who live far away” (McKenna & Bargh, 2000, p. 58).

Social Networking Sites and Online Relationships

There has been a dramatic shift and rise in the creation and usage of SNS. Generations today are experiencing a new wave of interpersonal communication that has transitioned to a more digital approach. There are hundreds of SNS that stretch back to 1978, however “current modern communication and interpersonal connectedness is now both fostered and mediated by the communicative tool itself: the computer” (Hoffman, 2008; Bowker & Moorman, 2011). Instead of a physical interaction with another individual, SNS make room for a “simulate[d]…real-time human interaction” (Bowker & Moorman, 2001, p. 2). Online and offline relationships currently coexist, however, “the role of social networking and its effects on young adults has largely been ignored in terms of the psychological implications and the impact on quality of relationships (Fisher, Sollie, & Morrow, 1986; Bowker & Moorman, 2001, p. 4).

For the purposes of my study, I will define a social network site as a web-based site that allows individuals to communicate, interact, and/or connect through the virtual use of a user profile (Correa & de Zúñiga, 2010). Examples of SNS’s include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace, but are not limited to these.


Self-Psychology is a useful theoretical lens to explore the phenomenon of online SNS use and young adults’ offline interpersonal relationships. Self-Psychology explains the difficulties many people experience through their ability to self-regulate and the development of a solid sense of self. According to Heinz Kohut (1978), the structure of the self is made up of three distinct poles that enable the self to become cohesive. Kohut refers to these poles as aspects of development that exist within the self, each of which has their own needs (Flanagan, 2008). The three poles are the grandiose self, the idealized parent imago, and twinship. First, the grandiose self is the part of the self that needs “mirroring selfobjects in an effort to feel special and full of well-being” (Flanagan, 2008, p. 172), developed from mirroring selfobjects and empathic attunement. The idealized parent imago represents a child’s need to see their caregiver(s) as idealized people, sources of power and security with whom to merge and feel a part of. Lastly, twinship is the need to feel that there are other individuals in the world who are similar to you, creating feelings of belonging and security (Flanagan, 2008). Selfobjects can be defined as “people or things outside of the self, vitally necessary to every individual as a source of mirroring, sources of perfection and grandeur to merge with, and as similar selves to feel at one with” (Flanagan, 2008, p. 171). According to Self-Psychology, selfobjects are needed to fulfill these functions throughout the life cycle and are called selfobjects because they function to give the self what it needs in order to become and remain cohesive.

Kohut also emphasizes the use of empathy, or what he called “vicarious introspection”(Flanagan, 2008, p. 168). His belief was that empathy was necessary for all human beings, helping a person feel heard and understood. Flanagan (2008) states “repeated empathic failures are the roots of disturbance and thwarted growth” (p. 169). Additionally, Kohut spoke of four descriptive categories of disorders that refer to when a person’s self psychological needs are not met. The first category is called the understimulated self, which describes those individuals whose selfobjects were not able to mirror their grandiosity, and may often feel “empty, bored, listless, or apathetic (Flanagan, 2008, p. 181). The second category, the overstimulated self, occurs when an individual’s selfobjects are too strong, which makes it difficult for the self to learn how to soothe itself on its own. The fragmenting self “have not been related to as a whole by their selfobjects” (Flanagan, 2008, p. 182), and although they have received some attention, they present as mercurial. Lastly, the overburdened self feels unsupported as a result of unreliable selfobjects (Flanagan, 2008).

Banai, Mikulincer, and Shaver (2005) found that “unmet selfobject needs for mirroring and twinship seem to have contributed to low self-esteem, which in turn [contributes] to anxiety and depression” (p. 243). As seen through Self-Psychology, a healthy and cohesive self-structure is the outcome of normal development of the three poles. Banai, Mikulincer, and Shaver (2005) used an experimental design to examine some of Kohut's ideas about selfobject needs. In one study, they examined Kohut's (1977, 1984) claim that strong hunger for selfobjects and avoidance of selfobject needs in adulthood are the underlying determinants of low self-esteem and emotional maladjustment. Results showed that hunger for mirroring and twinship significantly contribute to forms of emotional maladjustment related to difficulties in maintaining self-esteem. They further argue that a sense of self-cohesion is achieved when “people possess a stable, positively valued, and congruent set of qualities, ambitions, ideals, and values, and are able to accomplish their goals without being rejected or isolated from significant others and important reference groups” (p. 3). When one experiences difficulties in the development of a cohesive self, they may lack the capacity to maintain a steady level of selfesteem (Banai, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2005; Kohut & Wolf, 1978).

For the purposes of this study, I will focus on the grandiose self and twinship.

SNS Acting as a Mirror: The Grandiose Self The first pole is the grandiose self, which needs “mirroring selfobjects in an effort to feel special and full of well-being” (Flanagan, p. 172). The grandiose self includes a person’s individual talents that get mirrored back to them and help to form the core of identity. With respect to the grandiose pole, Self-Psychology can provide a theoretically grounded framework for identifying how and why people use SNS. SNS offer a unique opportunity to have mirroring experiences as a way of validating one’s self. Some individuals strengthen their sense of self through SNS by selectively presenting a version of their self. SNS provide an ideal environment for the expression of the hoped-for ideal self (Mehdizadeh, 2010). For example, Gonzales and Hancock (2011) argue that “selective, online self-presentation affects attitudes about the self. Facebook profiles may provide sufficiently positive biased stimuli to counter the traditional effects of objective self-awareness (e.g., photos, autobiographical information), and instead prompt a positive change in self-esteem” (Gonzales & Hancock, 2011, p. 80). SNS provide a place for individuals to instantly receive self-verifying feedback that may promote feelings of acceptance and value by others. When an individual experiences feelings of acceptance and love from “friends” online, they may experience a rise in self-esteem.

Individuals with a grandiose self are “vibrant, full of confidence, hopeful, ambitious, and productive (Flanagan 2008, p. 172). However, as discussed by Banai, Mikulincer, and Shaver (2005), those who are hungry for mirroring experiences may be anxiously attached individuals, “afraid of rejection and abandonment because such negative interpersonal experiences exacerbate their sense of isolation and loneliness” (p. 253). These individuals may become more preoccupied with maintaining a “sense of connectedness and similarity to others than with maintaining an exhibitionistic, grandiose sense of self (Banai, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2005, p. 253). However, on the other hand, Banai, Mikulincer, and Shaver (2005) discuss that these individuals are afraid of rejection and abandonment because their negative interpersonal experiences undermine their sense of superiority and entitlement. That said, these individuals may be more preoccupied with “justifying their narcissism than with maintaining a sense of connectedness to others” (Banai, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2005, p. 253). When individuals do not receive self-verifying feedback, the opportunity to be mirrored may be rejected, possibly causing damage to the self (Cast & Burke 2002, p. 1047 as cited in Brown & Lohr 1987; Burke & Stets 1999; Ellison 1993).


Twinship is experienced as sameness, alikeness, and being known by another (Banai, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2005). One requires twinship in order to feel a sense of connection to others. According to Flanagan (2008), the pole of twinship refers to an individual’s need to experience and “feel that there are others in the world who are similar to oneself” (p. 176). When a person feels this sense of sameness, they are able to facilitate the development of empathy and social skills (Banai, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2005).

SNS provide young adults with an opportunity to have an experience of being known by others, utilizing SNS as a space to connect with others in a parallel way. Freedman, (1996) points out that teachers often times educate children on the concept of “same” before they teach the concept of “different.” He states that “cognitive development dictates that one acquire a sense of sameness prior to acquiring the ability to comprehend differences. Therefore, in order to affectively experience a sense of differentiation, it is first essential to have affectively experienced a sense of sameness” (Freedman, 1996, p. 108). SNS are a space where people can feel a sense of sameness with others, and where a mutual recognition and bond with others can be formed. For example, an individual may find an online group with other individuals who share a common interest, are of the same age, or live in the same community.


People possess multiple senses of self. Both Goffman (1959) and Jung (1953)

distinguished between an individual’s “public self, or persona, and the individual’s inner self,” which Higgins (1987) later developed into the “ideal, ought, and actual self-concepts” (Bargh, 2002, p. 34). Other than the actual self, Carl Rogers (1951) expanded this idea into what he called the true self. Rogers’ notion of the true self was informed by Jung’s (1953) “distinction between the unconscious self and its public mask, persona” (Bargh, 2002, p. 34). Bargh (2002) explains Roger’s concept of the true self as: distinct from both the ideal self or possible selves on the one hand, and the actual self on the other, because Rogers (1951) viewed the true self of his clients as actually existing psychologically [i.e., a present, not a future version of self], but not fully expressed in social life [i.e., not the actual self] (p. 34).

Winnicott (1962) adopted this theory and introduced the true self and the false self. The true self, which he sometimes called the “real self” is used to describe a sense of self that is based on authentic experience, a “personal aliveness or feeling real” (Winnicott, 1962, p. 148).

The false self was described as a “defense designed to protect the true self by hiding it” (Blass, 2012, p. 1442), which often times presented as “polite and mannered in public” (Winnicott, 1962, p. 148). These aspects of the self may be kept hidden out of fear of rejection or isolation. Connecting with others on SNS may allow individuals the opportunity to express their true self, aspects of themselves they may keep hidden from those living within their community. Perhaps it is also true that individuals use SNS to connect with others in an effort to keep aspects of their identity “hidden.” (Shaw & Grant 2002). SNS allows users to selectively present themselves through photos and posts that expose certain aspects of themselves, thus SNS may be appealing to individuals of all ages, especially young adults, due to the ability one has to selectively present desired aspects of one’s self.

Alternatively, Tosun (2012) states that relying solely on the Internet to meet social needs can be maladaptive because young adults will only feel comfortable presenting their “true self” online. The concept of “true self on the Net” has some implications for relationship formation and maintenance. Tosun states that the “true self” “involves one’s actually existing characteristics (like the actual self) but those characteristics are not fully expressed in social life (like the potential self)” (Tosun, 2012, p. 1511). As with past studies, I am curious how Tosun’s (2012) findings would translate to offline relationships.

Additionally, SNS may be a space for some individuals to express their false selves where there is an opportunity to be whoever they want to be, and project aspects of themselves that they feel may connect them to others. Tosun (2010) conducted a quantitative research methods study with a correlational design. For this study, researchers first examined 142 students’ motives for using Facebook using the “True self on the Net” questionnaire through a web-based survey. The “true self on the Net” questionnaire was measured through a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (“does not agree at all”) to 5 (agrees completely.”) Then a web-based survey was made available for a one-month period. Tosun (2012) found that the main motive for Facebook use was “relationship maintenance” or “social searching” and to maintain long- distance relationships (Tosun, 2012). These results support the idea that participants use the Internet as a “social substitute” for interacting with others” (Tosun, 2012, p. 1511). However, another possible motive for Facebook use may be to keep regular contact with long-distance friends in between face-to-face contact.

Bargh, McKenna, and Fitzsimons (2002) used a quantitative methodology and an experimental design in which multiple methods of research were involved. New York University students enrolled in an introductory psychology course participated in pairs in a face-to-face interview. Their task was to respond as quickly as possible to a series of questions. Findings suggest that when an individual’s “true self” is expressed online, people feel better about themselves when engaging with other users. Compared to face-to-face interactions, Bargh, McKenna, and Fitzsimons (2002) found that people were better able to present aspects of their true self over the Internet and feel accepted by others. The study compared qualities of Internet communication to “face-to-face” communication. The researchers stated, “by its very nature, [Internet communication] facilitates the expression and effective communication of one’s true self to new acquaintances outside of one’s established social network, which leads to forming online relationships with them” (Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimons, 2002, p. 45.) Interestingly, it would appear that Internet communication may enable self-disclosure because of its relatively anonymous nature, as it fosters the idealization of others in the absence of information (Bargh, McKenna & Fitzsimons, 2002; Derlega et al., 1993; Murray et al., 1996).

Like Tosun (2012), Bargh, McKenna, and Fitzsimons (2002) believe that although being able to express one’s true self on SNS is a positive thing, the researchers expressed concern at the fast pace in which virtual relationships move. While Tosun (2012) sees the idea that participants use the Internet as a social substitute for interacting with others, Bargh, McKenna, and Fitzsimons (2002) believe that while the Internet “affords a panoply of interaction domains in which alternative forms to the self can be expressed, it is important to use caution with online relationships” and “take it slow” (p. 46). It is important to note that the study conducted by Bargh, McKenna, and Fitzsimons (2002) discussed young adults’ chatting online who did not know each other beforehand, therefore, they are cautioning specifically those who are socially anxious, “because they are the most highly motivated to find friends and romantic partners” (Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimons, 2002, p. 46). I believe that this study would be different had the participants known each other before they chatted online. Strengths and Limitations of Literature

The current literature possesses many strengths and limitations. Strengths of the literature include its usage of the Facebook interface. While there are several other social media websites such as Tumblr and MySpace, Facebook is advantageous because of its popularity and increased uniformity (Gonzales, 2011, p. 82.) Given the popularity of SNS use, the studies above have a timely influence to the growing body of research directed towards SNS use. Another strength of the empirical literature is its chosen sample group. Lenhart (2009) states that “the predominant social networking users are young adults; three-quarters of adult Internet users under age 25 have a profile on a social networking site” (Lenhart, 2009, p. 2). However, it is important to consider generalizability of this sample group.

I have not found any qualitative studies in the current literature that look at the implications for SNS use and its link to real world relationships. Therefore, my study will provide more depth to the current research as real world relationships is one focus. All of the research that I have read uses college-aged participants for the sample, and the method is typically some sort of online survey. In addition, all of the studies took place in North America. There was little attention to cultural values when looking at the development of young adults, which is another limitation. Lastly, most of the studies that I have read are quantitative methods studies.

Statement of Implication

In sum, the literature above examined the following categories: Erikson’s developmental model, SNS and its implications on self-esteem, loneliness and depression, and self-psychology theory. The literature above presents ample justification for my study. The effects that SNS have on young adults’ are complex. The empirical literature that I have read thus far has been mostly quantitative data from the perspective of young adults, all of whom are undergraduate students (Acar, 2008; Tosun 2012; Shaw &Gant, 2012; Bargh et al,. 2002; Zywica &Danowski, 2008; Tosun, 2012; Oldmeadow 2012; Lee, 2013). This has influenced my decision to develop a qualitative research methods study that allows me to explore a deeper understanding of SNS use and attitudes around relationship formation for those who use SNS.

Interestingly, because many studies were told from the perspective of young adults, participants were asked to disclose what grade level they were in, in addition to their age and gender. Few studies, however, required participants to disclose their race, culture, or ethnicity. This lack of reporting of diversity in the samples gives me reason to believe that perhaps the participant pool was not diverse.

My research question asks how young adults who are avid SNS users build and maintain interpersonal relationships. I hope to get a fuller, richer understanding of attitudes around relationship formation for those who use SNS. The next chapter will discuss the research project in extensive detail, examining the methodology by which the research was conducted, the sample population, and data analysis.


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Young Adults’ Online and Offline Interpersonal Relationships
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