It does not take long to realize how much technology has changed our social interactions and relationships with others. Society is so engulfed in cell phones, tablets, and other electronic device usage that is has now became the norm to communicate explicitly over the internet. In fact, using social media apps is perhaps the first choice for most people as opposed to face to face communication. Since the beginning of its foundation in 2004, Facebook, once used solely for college and university students, boomed overnight. According to facebook its mission is “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” ( ) Facebook since then is a staple in social networking sites (SNS). With a growth in SNS usage, new research studies have emerged. Although fairly new and detail lacking, researchers have focused a large amount of their study in face to face interactions or their lack of. According to Alloway, Runac, Qureshi, and Kemp (2014), “With this steady growth of SNS, changes in face-to-face communication have become apparent with people spending more time communicating online than in person” (p.150) and to Chan (2014) who states, “The surging popularity of Facebook (FB) as an online community has stunned the Internet and media world” (p. 276).Lastly, Shensa, Sidani, Lin, Bowman, and Primack (2015) also mention that “One of the most effective ways of increasing emotional support is through social network affiliation” (p.541)
In light of this new online interaction, the development of empathy was a common theme across various researchers’ findings. Alloway et al. (2014) state, “Empathy is characterized as one’s ability to feel along with others, to share in their happiness and hardships” (p.151). Based on this definition of empathy, it can be assumed that the more SNS’s are used as a way of interaction, the more empathy will develop. In fact, Alloway et al. (2014) suggest that regular SNS usage can in fact positively encourage empathy development because it widens their possibilities of interaction with others and can in fact develop sympathy in their responses when in face to face interactions, most people will keep quiet.
On the contrary to this, Chan (2014) believes that only individuals who exhibit extrovert traits will in fact benefit from social media. He states, “Extroverts believe in an active reward system that makes interactions with others positive and reinforcing. These prosocial orientations predispose extraverts to exhibit and reﬁne their social skills” (Chan, 2014, p.277). His findings resulted in a non significant correlation between empathy and facebook usage. He states,” While FB provides new opportunities for communication and learning, it embeds the risk of weakening empathic responses to others, which is crucial for effective communication.” (p. 279).
This new insight on empathy development has pin- pointed different aspects of facebook that are used as interaction between its users. Once on facebook, users have the option to share, like, comment, upload, and chat amongst each other. These specific behaviors are oftentimes seen as popularity markers within this community. As users, we have the ability to like, love, dislike anything that is posted. Pictures and videos become viral when shared multiple times. However, can this extensive sharing and likeness help in the development of empathy? According to Greitemeyer, Mugge and Bollermann (2014), their study anticipated that “the extent to which one experiences belonging by receiving online responses is related to the satisfaction of psychological needs even when controlling for tone of responses” (p. 253). Ultimately the results of receiving online responses fall back to the notion of being “liked” within the facebook community. If “liking” and being “liked” are used as a communication behavior and given what previous researchers have shared about empathy development, we can assume that empathy will be greatly influenced by this action. Hong, Chen and Li (2016), whose research focused on how personality traits where associated with receiving and giving “likes”, findings showed that there was a positive association between empathy and the frequency of giving likes on facebook. Hong et al., (2016) state, “Such behavior is more likely to be conducted by those with a high level of empathy as they frequently give ‘likes’ to help others achieve their social needs of generating desired impressions” (p. 294).
Therefore the purpose of this study is to examine if status updates for “likes” on facebook is related to one’s level of empathy. Based on the previous research mentioned above; relating the development of empathy, using various aspects of facebook as interactions, and increase SNS’s usage leads to positive relationships, it was hypothesized that there is a significant difference in empathy when using facebook.
The participants were 386 adults recruited from a large metropolitan city in Northern and Southern California. There were 328 participants who identified as females, 55 participants who identified as males, and 2 participants identified as gender non-binary. The age range for the sample was 86 to 18 years (M = 33.49, SD = 12.64). In regards to educational attainment, 4 had less than a high school degree, 155 had a high school diploma or equivalent, 75 had an associate’s degree, 98 had a bachelor’s degree, and 52 had a graduate or professional degree.
Materials and Measures
Data was collected using an online survey. The survey included questions about empathy and social media. The online survey was distributed amongst various platforms using the World Wide Web. The participants were anticipated to take about 15-20 minutes in completing the survey. The survey was taken anonymously and they were given the option of saving and coming back to it later.
Empathy. Empathy was measured using Jolliffe and Farrington’s (2006) 20-item Basic Empathy Scale (BES). Participants rated each item on a 5-point Likert type scale (1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, 4 = agree, and 5 = strongly agree). Nine items assessed cognitive empathy (e.g., “I can understand my friend’s happiness when s/he does well at something”) and 11 items assessed affective empathy (e.g., “after being with a friend who is sad about something, I usually feel sad”). After reverse-coding eight negatively worded items, participants’ ratings were summed across all 20 items. Participants’ scores could range from 20 (low in empathy) to 100 (high level of empathy). Reliability analyses indicated good reliability (Cronbach’s α = .82).
The number of “likes” on facebook. The number of “likes” on facebook was rated using the following scale, 1= “0” 2= “1-3” 3= “4-6” 4= “7-9” 5=”10 +”
This anonymous survey was designed by undergraduate students in a quantitative research class. The survey took approximately 15-20 minutes. Risks associated with this study are not anticipated to be greater than those risks encountered in a daily life. The participation in this study is voluntary; participants have the right not to participate or to leave the study whenever without penalty or loss of benefits to which they have been entitled. Any information that is obtained in connection with this study will remain confidential.
The mean score for empathy was 75.28 (SD = 8.23).
To test the hypothesis that there is a significant difference in empathy when using facebook, a correlation analysis test was ran. The results showed that there was a high, positive correlation between empathy and the number of “likes” on status updates, r (319) = .162, p < .001.
The purpose of this research study was to measure how the number of social media posts for “likes” on facebook relates to one’s level of empathy. Based on these measures, I was able find if there is a significant correlation in empathy when using facebook. Using a correlations analysis test my Pearson correlation value was .162 which showed a strong positive significant correlation at the 0.01 level. The findings of this current study are similar to those found by Hong et al.,(2016) in which they observed that “liking” and being “like” positively influenced empathetic tendencies which include liking others. Alloway et al., (2014) study also reflects the findings of this current study. They proposed that using SNS’s regularly led to the development of empathy because of the ability to communicate to more persons. However these findings are contradictory to Chan(2014) because the results to this current study showed a significant and positive correlation between “liking” and empathy. Some of the limitations encountered while running this research study include; the survey sample size, the length of the survey; missing data and self rapport.