Benedictine professor in demand as expert source on Facebook, social media

September 20, 2016

Shannon Rauch, professor of Psychology at Benedictine University at MesaLisle, Illinois ~ Shannon Rauch is drawing a lot of attention on Facebook — not for the photos or clever musings she posts on her personal site, but for her research on the social media phenomenon.

In 2013, Rauch’s study “Face to Face Versus Facebook: Does Exposure to Social Networking Web Sites Augment or Attenuate Physiological Arousal Among the Socially Anxious?” was published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

Since then, the assistant professor of Psychology at Benedictine University at Mesa has received calls from media outlets far and wide, including the Washington Times, Medical News Today, Forbes, Fortune, Men’s Health, National Public Radio, USA Today, Time and even The Daily Star in Bangladesh by reporters seeking her expertise on the psychological effects of using social media.

The subject matter of the stories ranges from cyber stalking and blind dating to social media hoaxes and social media addiction.

While people log on and use social media for a variety of reasons, Rauch’s findings show that the vast majority of people do so to escape from boredom, as she explained in an article published by Medical News Today.

“Social media delivers a reinforcement every time a person logs on,” Rauch said. “For those who post status updates, the reinforcements keep coming in the form of supportive comments and ‘likes.’ And of course we know that behaviors that are consistently reinforced will be repeated, so it becomes hard for a person who has developed this habit to simply stop.”

The behavior is so common that researchers in Norway created a psychological scale called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale to measure Facebook addiction.

When it comes to meeting new people, “Facebook stalking” has become a natural first step in the process. This often leads people to become more obsessed about their own image on social media, Rauch said.

“For many people, constant use of social media is equivalent to being persistently preoccupied with what others think,” Rauch explained in an article posted on the website Anxiety.org.

In Rauch’s study, 26 female students were first tested for levels of social anxiety. She then divided the students into four groups. One group only viewed a person’s Facebook profile, while another group was instructed to observe a person in a room, but not interact with them. Another group looked at a particular person’s Facebook profile and then observed that same person in the room. The final group saw the person in the room and then viewed their Facebook page.

Rauch found that the students who viewed a person’s social media page before seeing them in person had heightened levels of arousal. This was especially true for participants who had a high level of chronic social anxiety. This counters the perception that online experiences can be helpful for people with social anxiety disorders, as she explained in a Time magazine article.

“If your goal is to calm yourself for the face-to-face encounter, Facebook is probably not the best strategy,” Rauch said.

Another unintended consequence of social media is the ease at which users can spread and re-post information that masquerades as truth.

One widely circulated fabrication — that Facebook would begin charging for private profiles — was reposted and sent out en masse by users, many of whom believed the post to be true. Other hoaxes, such as false celebrity death rumors, have been shared by millions of users.

“I think it’s a case of information overload,” Rauch told Fortune. “We’re so used to getting a lot of information through Facebook —- especially younger people —- that we quickly scroll through. And the fact that it is a hoax gets lost, because we’re on to the next thing.”

Today, more than 1.65 billion people spend an average of 50 minutes a day on Facebook — more than any other leisure activity except for watching TV programs and movies, according to The New York Times.

And psychologists in particular will continue to pay considerable attention to Facebook and other social media outlets as they grow and compete for more face-time from their users, Rauch said.

“Because of its growing pervasiveness, the understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of Facebook interactions continues to be of considerable importance,” Rauch said. “Its influence on those who struggle with social anxiety is particularly critical.”

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 Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixth consecutive year in 2016. A 2016 PayScale Inc. report ranked BenU one of the top 10 colleges in Illinois for return on investment and in the top 20 percent nationally. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, admissions@ben.edu or visit ben.edu.

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