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Facebook Affects Both the Waistline and Bottom Line

By 2016, more U.S. consumers will access the Internet through mobile devices than through PCs . / Credit: Facebook Mobile image courtesy of Facebook

While collecting friends on Facebook can boost social network users' self-esteem, it can also reveal something about both their waistlines and bottom lines, new research finds

A study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School discovered that greater social network use among those with strong ties to their online friends is associated not only with increased self-esteem, but also with a reduction in self-control, specifically in individuals having higher body-mass indexes and higher levels of credit-card debt.

"We have demonstrated that using today's most popular social network, Facebook, may have a detrimental affect on people's self-control," said the study's co-author, Andrew Stephen, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

The research was based on five separate studies of more than 1,000 U.S. Facebook users. In on experiment, participants completed surveys about their self-esteem and how closely they're connected to friends on Facebook. The experiment found that participants with weak ties to Facebook friends did not experience an increase in self-esteem,but those with strong ties to friends had an enhanced sense of self-worth.

Researchers used cookies and granola bars in one experiment as a way to establish a link between self-esteem and self-control. As part of the experiment, scientists told participants to check Facebook or read news articles on CNN.com, and then choose between eating a granola bar or a chocolate-chip cookie. The Facebook browsers were more likely to pick the cookie.

The final experiment examined the relationship between online social network use and offline behaviors associated with poor self-control. In this experiment, participants completed a survey about their heights and weights, the number of credit cards they owned and the amount of debt on the cards, and how many friends the participants had offline.

"The results suggest that 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," the researchers wrote.

The researchers argue that the study has implications for policy makers because self-control is an important mechanism for maintaining social order and well-being.

"It would be worthwhile for researchers and policy makers to further explore social network use in order to better understand which consumers may be particularly vulnerable to suffering negative psychological or social consequences," they wrote.

The research, which was co-authored by Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, is scheduled to appear in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Follow Chad Brooks on Twitter @cbrooks76 or BusinessNewsDaily @BNDarticles. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.