Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Internet Use and Romantic Relationships among College Students

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Internet Use and Romantic Relationships among College Students

Article excerpt

During the past decade, internet use has become an integral part of the college experience. In a recent survey of U.S. college students, virtually all students (94%) reported spending at least one full hour per day on the internet, with over half (53%) reporting being online for three or more hours per day (Jones, Johnson-Yale, Millermaier, & Perez, 2009). College students appear to be particularly attracted to the communication uses of the internet, which are facilitated through social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook (Ellison, Steinfeld, & Lampe, 2007; Subrahmanyam, Reich, Waechter, & Espinoza, 2008). In fact, Facebook currently claims to have over 1 billion active users (Key Facts, 2013). According to a recent report by Pew Research, 86% of internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 use Facebook, the highest percentage within any age category (Duggan & Brenner, 2013).

Although the internet has enormous potential to enhance students' academic experience, heavy use of the internet has also been associated with various negative conditions such as loneliness, depression, and even physical illness (Chen & Peng, 2008; Erdogan, 2008; Ozcan & Buzlu, 2007). Niemz, Griffiths, and Banyard (2005) reported an association between excessive internet use and academic, social, and interpersonal problems in a sample of college students. Heavy internet users in this sample were also found to have low self-esteem and to be more socially disinhibited. Related to this point, there has been growing concern in recent years about the dangers of self-disclosure on social networking sites (see Nosko, Wood, & Molema, 2010).

The effect of the internet on interpersonal relationships has long been a topic of interest among researchers. Early studies generally found that internet use had negative effects on relationships (Kraut, et al., 1998), probably because it served as a substitute for face-to-face communication. More recent studies, however, have reported mostly positive effects, often linked to the use of online social networking tools such as Facebook, which encourage peer-to-peer communication and can stimulate social connectedness (Freberg, Adams, McGaughey, & Freberg, 2010; Subrahmanyam, Reich, Waechter, & Espinoza, 2008; Valkenburg & Peter, 2009). Most users of these sites perceive their online communication as an extension of their offline social interactions as opposed to a substitute for them (Kujath, 2011; Reich, 2010). These benefits, however, do not necessarily extend to "problematic" internet users who exhibit extremely high levels of usage and signs of dependence (Milani, Osualdella, & Di Blasio, 2009; Odaci, & Kalkan, 2010).

An important developmental challenge of early adulthood is the formation of intimate relationships with romantic partners (Arnett, 2004; Collins & Madsen, 2006; Erikson, 1959). Indeed, studies of dating behavior among college students suggest that the vast majority have experienced a romantic relationship (Carver, Joyner, & Udry, 2003; Stevens & Morris, 2007). Although the internet (e.g., social networking sites) undoubtedly facilitates some aspects of these relationships, romantic relationships are generally maintained through offline rather than online social interaction. Thus entry into a romantic relationship may be expected to coincide with a subsequent decrease in time spent on the internet. Consistent with this prediction, McAndrew and Jeong (2012) reported that Facebook users who were in a committed relationship were less active on Facebook than those who were not in a committed relationship. Moreover, there is reason to believe that internet use may actually interfere with the quality of a romantic relationship, as various authors have suggested that excessive internet use by college students is related to developmental issues such as difficulties with identity formation and intimacy (Anderson, 2001; Huang, 2009; Kandell, 1998). …

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