Social Sharing Makes Events Seem More Real, Says Study


A new study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior investigated the widespread practice of sharing personal news and events via social media and smartphones.

The study looked at which types of media and platforms people chose for sharing positive and negative personal information, and how they felt after sharing news in mediated environments.

Three-hundred undergraduate students at UW-Madison participated in the study, which was conducted by graduate students Mina Choi and Catalina Toma.

Participants kept a diary of how sharing information about a particular event affected their emotions and compared it to the feelings they experienced during the event itself. They tracked the kinds of messages and events they shared and how and where they chose to share each.

The results showed that 70 percent of social sharing took place through mediated communication such as texting, phone calls, Facebook or Twitter. Toma says people use phones, texting and social media to connect with others in substantial ways. “It’s almost like the event is not even real until you tell somebody,” she said.

Moreover, participants strategically chose media based on specific psychological needs and expectations. They chose texting and Twitter for sharing positive life events as they occurred in the real world. These channels were preferred for their easy accessibility and non-intrusiveness (receivers do not feel compelled to respond immediately).

When experiencing negative events, however, people justified interrupting others in more intrusive ways, particularly by telephone. “You often hear people say when the phone rings, it’s bad news,” Toma said. “Our data support that.”

Choi and Toma also found that sharing on social media enhanced an event’s
emotional tone and impact — an effect known as capitalization. With regard to positive life events, “telling somebody makes you even happier,” said Toma.

Similarly, sharing negative news makes it “more real” and aggravates the negative emotions experienced during the actual event. Participants who shared negative news felt worse overall, and social media shares produced more negative effects than sharing via the telephone.

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