“I love you, honey bear! Together 4-evah!”
Log on to Facebook this Valentine’s Day, and you’ll see countless messages of love and affection. But you’ll know which couples are the happiest when you look at their profile pictures.
Research from the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) found the happier a person’s romantic relationship, the more likely they are to post a dyadic, or “couple-y” photo on their Facebook profile.
“When people fall in love, they tend to view their romantic partner as an extension of themselves – there’s a feeling of connection and merged identities,” says UTM social psychologist Amy Muise. “Since so many people use platforms such as Facebook to augment their social lives, we thought this would be a fascinating new way to gain insight into how online behaviour reflects what’s happening in people’s most intimate relationships.”
Muise and her co-researchers, including UTM psychology professor Emily Impett, found that when people are in love, they want the whole (online social network) world to see.
The study found that people who were more satisfied in their relationships and felt closer to their partners were more likely to post profile photos featuring themselves with their partner. They were also more likely to have a partner who posted similar “couple” photos.
As well, on the days they felt a higher satisfaction with their partners or relationships, people more often posted status updates that referred to those aspects of their lives. However, the team was surprised to find that a person’s daily satisfaction was not correlated with their partner posting relationship information. Muise believes this could be because romantic partners react to general trends in the relationship, rather than the daily feelings of satisfaction shared publicly on Facebook.
The team used three studies to refine their results. The first study asked couples who had been married from less than a year to 39 years to self-report on how often they had posted a “couples” photo to Facebook, and measured their relationship satisfaction and closeness. The second study extended the findings, again with married couples. Researchers measured the participants’ feelings about their marriage and assessed their profile pictures three times over a year.
For the final study, the researchers found couples who had been dating from two months to over six years and asked each partner to separately complete a daily survey. The survey lasted two weeks and included questions about the relationship and personal Facebook use. Researchers downloaded the participants’ profile photos on the first day of the study.
The researchers also tested general measures of personality and happiness and found that a person’s general outlook had no bearing on how often they posted a couples photo or relationship status update.
For Muise, posting a photo of oneself with one’s partner can be seen as an unconscious marker of closeness and togetherness, something regularly displayed by happy couples to show the high quality of their relationship. Another example of such a marker is using inclusive language such as we or us.
“This research supports other findings that people’s Facebook profiles are closely related to how a person is offline,” says Muise. “It also points to interesting avenues for further research about how couples use Facebook in their romantic relationships and what that means for how the relationship plays out in real life.”
The research appeared in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Department of Psychology
University of Toronto at Mississauga
U of T Mississauga Communications