Facebook has changed the way people share information about their relationships and the way they communicate with their romantic partners. As I discussed here, Facebook provides opportunities for people to express their relationship satisfaction and commitment, but, as we learned here, Facebook is also a forum where people can access information about their romantic partners that may trigger jealousy.1 Ambiguous posts on a partner’s wall (“Great to see you last night!”) or the addition of a new, attractive person to a partner’s Facebook friend list may incite feelings of jealousy and insecurity. In our recent research, we wanted to address the following questions: How do people respond to jealousy-provoking information on Facebook? And who is more likely to seek out additional information in response to feelings of jealousy?
In two studies, my colleagues and I looked at partner monitoring on Facebook – that is, the act of accessing a romantic partner’s information on Facebook.2 Monitoring people on Facebook (romantic partners and other members of one’s social network) has become so common that several terms, such as creeping and facestalking, have been coined to describe it. In fact, over 60% of undergraduate students say they have used Facebook to keep tabs on others, including romantic partners.3 When researchers ask undergraduates to list their reasons for “creeping,” jealousy emerges at the top of the list, suggesting that jealousy may not only be a consequence of creeping, but also a cause.3
In our first study, we tested the association between jealousy and partner monitoring by creating a fictitious Facebook environment where participants logged in and saw a photo of their imagined “romantic partner” with an attractive member of the other gender (all participants in our study identified as heterosexual). Participants were told that the person was either a) their partner’s cousin, b) a mutual friend, or c) unknown to them. After seeing the photo, participants could spend as much time on the fictitious Facebook site as they wanted, and we recorded how long they spent searching on the site (there was a complete album of photos and full profiles of the person’s “romantic partner,” the other person in the picture and several friends) as well as their self-reported feelings of jealousy.
We found that, when women (but not men) reported more jealousy—which was, incidentally, in response to the photo of their pretend partner with an unknown person—they spent more time “creeping” on their partner’s profile on Facebook. When men reported the most jealousy—which was typically in response to the photo of their partner with a mutual friend—they spent the least amount of time searching for information.2 Based on this study, it appears that when women experience a jealousy trigger on Facebook, they are more likely to search for additional information, whereas men tend to avoid looking for additional information when jealous.
Study 1 was based on hypothetical situations and may not reflect how people respond in their real relationships, so in Study 2 we conducted a daily experience or daily diary study, where we asked participants about their daily feelings of jealousy and use of Facebook. On days when women reported feeling more jealous, they spent more time monitoring their partner’s activities on Facebook compared to days when they reported feeling less jealous, whereas this was not the case for men. Men spent the same amount of time monitoring their partner regardless of how much jealousy they reported that day.2 Women did not spend more time than men monitoring their partners on Facebook overall; women’s monitoring just seemed to be more tied to their feelings of jealousy than it was for men.
In Study 2, we also wanted to consider why women’s jealousy was tied to increased partner monitoring on Facebook. To answer this question, we turned to previous research on attachment style and partner monitoring. People high in attachment anxiety, those who desire intense closeness with a partner but fear rejection and are highly attentive to relationship threats, monitor their partners more closely on Facebook.4 In general, especially during young adulthood, women tend to score higher on attachment anxiety than do men.5 In our study, we found that attachment anxiety explained gender differences in partner monitoring in response to feelings of jealousy. Although Facebook jealousy was linked to higher levels of anxious attachment for both men and women, higher anxiety led to increased partner monitoring for women but not for men.2 As such, feeling jealous in response to Facebook information may be heightened for people high in anxious attachment, but the behavioral response (creeping a partner on Facebook) seems to differ for men and women – specifically, women tend to seek out additional information on Facebook, whereas men do not.
So what should you do if Facebook is making you feel jealous? This is a difficult question to answer, because partner monitoring on Facebook challenges relationship norms. Partners tend to view snooping as a violation of privacy, but on Facebook information appears publicly for all to see. Nevertheless, partner monitoring on Facebook has a negative connotation (note the words creeping and facestalking). As a result, it can be confusing to know how to handle jealousy-provoking information accessed on Facebook. Although it may be awkward to admit to “creeping” a partner on Facebook, past research suggests that people who talk about their feelings of jealousy with their romantic partners feel more satisfied than those who avoid discussing these feelings.6 So if you feel jealous in response to something posted on Facebook, it is probably best to talk it out with your partner instead of relying on Facebook for clarification.
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1Muise, A., Christofides, E., & Desmarais, S. (2009). More information than you ever wanted: Does Facebook bring out the green-eyed monster of jealousy? CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12, 441–444. doi:10.1089/cpb.2008.0263
2Muise, A., Christofides, E., & Desmarais, S. (2013). ’Creeping’ or just information seeking? Gender differences in partner monitoring in response to jealousy on Facebook. Personal Relationships. Advance online publication.
3Stern, S. R., & Willis, T. J. (2007). What are teenagers up to online? In S. R. Mazzarella (Ed.), 20 questions about youth and the media (pp.211–224). NewYork, NY: Peter Lang.
4Marshall, T. C., Bejanyan, K., Di Castro, G., & Lee, R. A. (2012). Attachment styles as predictors of Facebook-related jealousy and surveillance in roman- tic relationships. Personal Relationships, 20, 1-22. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2011.01393.x
5Del Giudice, M. (2011). Sex differences in romantic attachment: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 193-214. doi:10.1177/0146 167210392789
6Andersen, P . A., Eloy, S. V ., Guerrero, L. K., & Spitzberg, B. H. (1995). Romantic jealousy and relational satisfaction: A look at the impact of jealousy experience and expression. Communication Reports, 8, 77–85.
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy