November 10, 2011

In Internet Age, People Have Fewer Confidantes, Study Finds

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Despite technological advancement and a growing global community, Americans are reporting a decline in their number of close confidantes, Prof. Matthew Brashears, sociology, says in a recent study published in the American Sociological Review.

Brashears’ study compared the results of a study in 1985 to similarly-collected data in 2010. His results showed that the average “discussion network” — the number of people an individual can discuss “important issues” with — has decreased from three to two people, on average, over the last few decades.

Brashears said his findings, which garnered national media attention, surprised him. He said the results challenge previous conceptions that individual social networks grew with the advent of online social networking.

“We were skeptical of the dramatic change,” Brashears said.

He said that increased connectivity online does not translate into an increase in the number of close confidantes.

“In the Internet age, you can be friends on Facebook, but you’re not really friends unless you interact,” Brashears said. “[The Internet] doesn’t increase the number of close associates.”

While Brashears has not conducted a study as to determine the cause of the decline, he speculated that people are more discerning about their closest confidantes than in 1985.

Prof. Keith Hampton, communication, University of Pennsylvania, worked with the Pew Research Center and obtained similar results. He predicted that increasing economic prosperity may cause declines in close social ties.

Original Author: Erica Augenstein