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Why researchers think people using WhatsApp for emotional support could improve relationships

A study found that people who use WhatsApp for emotional support are more likely to experience closeness, better quality relationships, and high self-esteem. Dr Linda Kaye, one of the researchers talk to the about the study.

Written by Mohammad Faisal | New Delhi |
July 2, 2019 5:45:52 pm
whatsapp, whatsapp use, dr linda kaye, linda kaye, psychosocial well-being; online chat, whatsapp chat, whatsapp good for health, mental health, mental health whatsapp use, whatsapp use mental health, whatsapp psychological health Dr Linda Kaye speaks about her research that found WhatsApp can be good for psychological well being. (Image: Dr Linda K Kaye, source: Edge Hill University)

A study published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction found that text-based messaging apps that offer group chat, such as WhatsApp, have a positive impact on the psychological health of an individual. The research titled, “Psychosocial Outcomes Associated with Engagement with Online Chat Systems”, was carried out by Dr Linda Kaye, a senior lecturer in Psychology and a Professor at Edge Hill University along with Dr Sally Quinn from the University of York.

They picked 200 users — 158 women and 42 men — with an average age of 24 years for an online questionnaire measuring WhatsApp use and motivations, online bonding, quality of relationships, group identity, and psychosocial outcomes. The average daily use of WhatsApp among these users was around 55 minutes.

The researchers found that the more time people spent on the messaging app per day, the closer they felt to their friends and family. As a result, they were less lonely and possessed higher self-esteem. The report highlights that social technology such as WhatsApp may stimulate existing relationships while enhancing aspects of the users’ positive well-being.

Dr Linda K Kaye, one of the researchers spoke to the over the email. Here is an edited excerpt of the conversation:

Question: The average daily use of WhatsApp among the users you picked was around 55 minutes. Would the findings apply the same on someone who’s kind of obsessed with WhatsApp and uses it more than four hours in a day?

It is likely that the people who use WhatsApp more excessively will experience its effect differently than people who use it more conservatively. The main question here is why they may be using it this much. This is where taking measures of motivations for use is important.

For example, our research showed that people who use WhatsApp for emotional support are more likely to experience closeness and better quality relationships with their WhatsApp partners compared to those who may use it for other reasons. Therefore, to understand how usage relates to psychological experiences, it is probably more important to ask why rather than how much people are using.

Question: You say self-esteem is the result of the feeling of closeness users feel while talking to their friends and family on messaging app. Is there a chance the self-esteem is not because of the closeness but due to the “feel good” factor they experience while chatting with someone they share similar beliefs and understanding. If people start to have similar conversations with strangers on Twitter, instead of arguments and debates, will it have the same effect?

The shared values and experiences which interactions have, irrespective of whether these are online or otherwise are really important in our psychological experiences. We hold those who share similar beliefs or values in high esteem and therefore any interactions with these are likely to be positive. Understand what the specific internet technology is and the extent to which it can allow us to interact with those who are similar or close to us is important to understand how it will affect us.

There is a distinction here between different types of social capital; social bonding (which is what this research explored) is how we gain social resources for our close relationships, whereas social bridging can be garnered from interactions with people who we may never meet in the “real world”, so can extend and broaden our social opportunities.

Twitter is a good example of how social bridging can work in online settings and whilst this can be really useful as a social networking tool, it may on the flip-side result in more varied perspectives, beliefs and values which may then lead to more disagreements and arguments.

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Question: People with low levels of confidence (or introverts) often choose texting instead of physical meetings or even phone calls. If they continue to use WhatsApp, will it increase self-esteem or bring their confidence levels to even lower than it was before.

People who may be low in social confidence may elect for online platforms to support their social interactions and sometimes these can supplement their “real world” social experiences. It is likely that this may have a knock on psychological impact in a positive way, as long as it is not being used solely as the only human interaction, as this is not necessarily a positive approach to take.

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