Does Facebook make you a fat spendthrift?
Want to decrease your debt and drop some pounds?
Limit your time on Facebook.
At least that's what some of the most provocative new research I've ever seen about social networking suggests.
"Greater social network use is associated with a higher body-mass index, increased binge eating, a lower credit score and higher levels of credit card debt for individuals with strong ties to their social network," notes the study by Keith Wilcox and Andrew T. Stephen.
It sounds strange enough to be true, but is it?
These guys are marketing professors. Wilcox works at Columbia University in New York, while Stephen is at the University of Pittsburgh.
They conducted five separate experiments to show that online networking can have a negative impact on judgment and decision-making.
In one, they used an online survey to ask 541 Facebook users in the United States about their Facebook habits, financial situations, physical statistics (like height and weight) and whether or not they engaged in binge eating.
The responses showed that Facebook is a significant predictor of behaviors that are associated with poor self-control, but only for those with strong social ties online.
That’s because, as the study notes, individuals tend to be more concerned with the image they present to the people with whom they share a strong personal connection.
Simply browsing a social network can momentarily increase self-worth — that has been shown in other studies — but this one ventures further to say that a bump in self-esteem can lead you to spend and eat a little more, because when you feel good, you can rationalize the extra expense and calories.
So, what's the takeaway here?
Well, that depends on how much you dive into the land of social networks.
If you're a heavy Facebook user with a lot of strong connections, be mindful of your spending, because you might swipe your credit card more often for scoops of ice cream or, in my case, a big ol' bacon cheeseburger.
"Ultimately, the way you counteract this is by raising your self-awareness,” Professor Wilcox told Today.com.
But if you're just the occasional browser with mostly acquaintances on the social network, it might not really make that much of a difference. The research notes that the effect is subtle and happens over time.
Still, even a five-minute "dose" of social network use was enough to significantly lower self-control in the study.
This isn't just limited to Facebook.
Stephen believes the repercussions can take place on any social media outlet that promotes relationships or sharing with friends.
Considering the increased time people are spending using social networks, especially adolescents and young adults, this could warrant some attention, the study notes.
Let's be honest — with rampant low returns, we already have enough working against us in terms of saving, and this Facebook spending effect has the potential to grow if there's anything to it.
"Given that self-control is important for maintaining social order and personal well-being, this subtle effect could have widespread impact," the study notes.
The professors insist throughout the research that this is truly based on cause and effect, but I'm leaning toward the view that people with less self-control tend to use social networks more often.
Even so, I'll be trying to spend a little less time perusing Facebook, just to see if my spending habits change.
But first, I'm going to update my status.
How about you?