MONDAY, April 9, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Being ignored feels just as bad when it happens online as when it happens in person.
That's the conclusion of a new study that looked at the emotional impact of feeling excluded using social media, such as Facebook, compared to face to face.
"If you've ever felt bad about being ignored on Facebook, you're not alone," study author Joshua Smyth, a professor of biobehavioral health and medicine at Penn State University, said in a university news release. "Facebook -- with its approximately 800 million users -- serves as a place to forge social connections; however, it is often a way to exclude others without the awkwardness of a face-to-face interaction."
Smyth and colleagues from Misericordia University used two studies to examine how people perceived exclusion in person and in online chat rooms.
In the first study, 275 college students were asked to predict how they would feel about being ignored during a conversation. The students expected to feel somewhat distressed and thought the exclusion would take a toll on their self-esteem regardless of whether it took place online or face-to-face.
In the second study, the researchers staged an introductory conversation involving 77 college students who thought they were involved in a study on first impressions. Half of the students were excluded in an online chat room. The others were ignored in person by research assistants posing as fellow study participants.
Participants in both scenarios felt equally stung.
"Contrary to our expectation, the students' responses to rejection were not primarily characterized by severe distress, but rather characterized by numbness and distancing or withdrawal," Smyth said.
The researchers noted that the students expected the exclusion to feel worse than it actually did, and that students also thought they were ignored because of a problem with others, not themselves.
The findings were published in a recent online issue of Computers in Human Behavior.
The Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides more information on friendship.