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The Facebook flow

Have you just popped over to this site after a bit of Facebook time? Perhaps you are off for a bit of Facebooking after you read this? You are certainly not alone if either of these is the case as currently 845 million people worldwide use Facebook. That is an impressive take-up rate and it is no surprise that psychologists are scrambling to find out exactly what it is that makes Facebook so successful. Now a new study has discovered a significant part of the answer to that puzzle.

To test the psychological effects of Facebook use the researchers studied people under three different circumstances. In the first instance they were studied while using their own personal Facebook account.

In the second they were observed while watching a slide show of natural landscapes. This was intended to induce a relaxation state.

On a third occasion they were observed while doing a Stroop test and a mathematical task. A stroop test involves being rapidly shown names of colours and you have to say not the name that is spelled out but the colour of the letters. This is a well established way to induce psychological stress.

As the people performed these three different tasks measures were taken that would reflect their physical and psychological state. The measures taken were skin conductance, blood volume pulse, brainwave patterns (EEG), muscle activity (electromyography), breathing activity, and pupil dilation.

The results showed that the pattern for Facebook use was significantly different to both stress and relaxation. That is interesting in itself, that Facebook causes a psychological state that has its own qualities but the nature of that state is even more interesting.

While people were engaged with their Facebook page the measurements reflected that they were in a “core flow state”. This topic of “flow” is an area that is getting a lot of attention right now. “Flow” is defined by some psychologists as being challenged by what you are doing but also being highly aroused and enjoying it. Others go further and say that “flow” is a biological signal that tells your mind to “bookmark” an experience and repeat it. Being in “core flow” is linked to being focused and performing at your best and to subjectively experiencing high quality of life.

In this study flow was measured in two ways; by the subjects’ own assessment of their mood and arousal and also by the physiological measurements mentioned. Flow should be associated with a decreased heart beat interval, increased respiratory depth, and increased skin conductivity. All of these indicate high levels of arousal. On the other side hand decreased muscle activity in the corrugator supercilii muscle (just below the eyebrow), decreased pupil dilation, lower brain beta wave activity, and higher brain alpha wave activity indicate a positive mood coupled being attentive. All of this adds up to being in “core flow”.

However, you measure it, to be in “core flow” is a good thing. Your motto might well be “go with the core flow”, and it seems that a bit of Facebook time can get you there. No wonder it’s flow popular.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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