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Social media study casts light on online emotional connections, anxiety

By Krishna De La Cruz
University News Service
April 24, 2013

A study of social media conducted by former Texas State University graduate student, Russell Clayton, is making national news out of Missouri.

Clayton’s master thesis, conducted under the supervision of Randall Osborne, Brian Miller and Crystal Oberle of Texas State, surveyed more than 225 college freshmen concerning their perceived levels of loneliness, anxiousness, alcohol use and marijuana use in the prediction of emotional connectedness to Facebook. They found that students who reported higher levels of anxiousness and alcohol use appeared to be more emotionally connected with the social networking site. Clayton and his colleagues also found that students who reported higher levels of loneliness and anxiousness use Facebook as a platform to connect with others.

Clayton, now a doctoral student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, graduated from Texas State in 2010 with a B.S. in psychology and earned his M.A. in health psychology in 2012.

“During my first semester of graduate school I approached Dr. Osborne with my thesis hypotheses, and without hesitation he agreed to serve as my thesis chair,” said Clayton.

He surveyed 229 Texas State undergraduate students who, at the time, were living in University dormitories in October of 2011. He successfully defended his thesis in April of 2012. It was during the defense that Osborne, Miller and Oberle suggested that he submit his thesis to an academic journal for potential publication. Clayton was later admitted into the University of Missouri School of Journalism doctoral program to conduct research in the Psychological Research on Information and Media Effects (PRIME) Lab. His study was published in the Journal of Computers in Human Behavior.

“I think it is wonderful that Russell and his study are getting national attention. To me, it helps to illuminate that fact that Facebook and other social networking sites provide a conduit for the socially anxious or shy or awkward person to socially connect, but that such a connection is not the equivalent of a face-to-face interaction," Osborne said. "Although it may, temporarily, alleviate the social anxiety and loneliness, it does not teach people skills to approach face-to-face situations with any less anxiety. It can become a substitute for such interactions and, in the long run, that might not be so healthy.”

For additional information, visit www.primelab.missouri.edu or contact Clayton at www.russellbclayton.com.