How social are social networking sites? Investigating the relationship between different styles of usage and psychosocial factors.

   College of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr Charlotte Pennington, Dr Daniel J. Shaw  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Social networking sites (SNS) are an increasingly popular tool to engage in social interaction; for example, Facebook currently has 1.5 billion regular users and 74% of adults use such platforms regularly. This raises the question, how social are social networking sites? In a recent review, Ryan et al. (2017) found mixed evidence with regards to the use of social networking sites on psychosocial outcomes, such as social connectedness, social capital, sense of belonging and loneliness. Whilst some studies demonstrate the utility of social networking site usage in increasing social connectedness and reducing loneliness, other research has found that such online interactions can heighten feelings of disconnect and loneliness. We have theorised that one potential explanation for these mixed findings is that researchers have overlooked differences in how people use social networking sites: when used interactively, social networking sites may be related positively to psychosocial factors, but when used passively they may be related negatively. To empirically assess this, we developed the Social Network Behaviour Task to objectively measure different styles of usage on social networking sites (Shaw et al., 2022). This Ph.D. project will utilise and adapt this task to investigate its relationships with psychosocial factors. It will also examine social cognitive characteristics (e.g., empathy) that are associated with different usage patterns on social networking sites. Such research will advance our understanding of whether social networking sites are truly social in nature.

Estimated yearly cost of consumables

The student may wish to attend academic conferences and would be responsible for acquiring funding with help from their supervisors.

Person Specification

A Masters degree in a relevant subject with a 60% or higher weighted average, and/or a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution)

Submitting an application

As part of the application, you will need to supply:

·        A copy of your current CV

·        Copies of your academic qualifications for your Bachelor degree, and Masters degree (if studied); this should include both certificates and transcripts, and must be translated in to English

·        A research proposal statement*

·        Two academic references

·        Proof of your English Language proficiency

Details of how to submit your application can be found here

*The application must be accompanied by a “research proposal” statement. An original proposal is not required as the initial scope of the project has been defined, candidates should take this opportunity to detail how their knowledge and experience will benefit the project and should also be accompanied by a brief review of relevant research literature.

Please include the supervisor’s name and project title in your Personal Statement.

If you require further information about the application process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team at [Email Address Removed]

Psychology (31) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

There is no funding for this project.


Ryan, T., Allen, K. A., Gray, D. L., & McInerney, D. M. (2017). How social are social media? A review of online social behaviour and connectedness. Journal of Relationships Research, 8, 1-8.
Shaw, D. J., Kaye, L. K., Ngombe, N., Kessler, K., & Pennington, C. R. (2022). It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it: A computerized task dissociates between reactive and interactive styles of usage on social networking sites.
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