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How Many Digital Friends Do You Have? Facebook, Intimate Relationships, and Well-Being

If you haven’t accepted that social media is becoming an increasingly important factor in the socialization of youth and adults alike, you’re simply behind the times.

Every generation from Baby-Boomers to Millennials utilize mobile devices and online technology to communicate and interact.

Online communication technology is now a staple of peoples’ daily life, and because of this people are able to communicate more often with more people than ever before.

This increase in communication would intuitively appear to be a positive thing, as research has revealed the value of intimate relationships on well-being and happiness.

However, whether online social networking lends itself to the same level of meaning and significance in relationships is another question.

A recent article in Developmental Psychology (2012) points out the large extent of online peer interactions, noting that, “90% of undergraduates on the majority of college campuses and 90% of high school students use social media sites, creating online profiles of themselves and adding other users to their list of “friends” on the network.”

Of particular relevance is the ubiquitous use of the social network site Facebook, which is the fourth most visited website on the Internet and has over 800 million active users.

The same article explored the relationship between large networks of social connections on Facebook and the development of intimacy and social support for college students. Eight-eight students, more of than half of which were female, were surveyed for this study.

The findings revealed that sites like Facebook are transforming the context of personal relationships in a potentially beneficial way.

For instance, the findings emphasize that the Facebook “audience” serves psychological and social value. This value appears to come from communication with both close connections and unknown others.

The results showed that larger networks and estimated larger audiences predicted higher levels of life satisfaction and perceived social support through Facebook.

An example of this is shown through observing participants status-updates, which sends communication to someone’s entire contact list. The dominant use of status-updates in this study was to express one’s current emotional state, and served essentially as a form of intimate self-disclosure or emotional connection with others.

As well, the research revealed that students with more close contacts were found to communicate both privately and publicly more frequently, and that students were able to maintain close relationships from the past as they transition into college and beyond, thus serving as a means of social support.

The breadth of connections for most Facebook users is continuing to increase. People are expanding the number of close relationships they produce, as well as the acquaintances they make with total strangers, and it can be predicted that this will continue to grow.

Despite the need for further research to support these findings, the Facebook platform appears to offer social support and a process for nurturing relationships for many young adults.


Manago, A. M., Taylor, T., & Greenfield, P. M. (2012). Me and My 400 Friends: The Anatomy of College Students’ Facebook Networks, Their Communication Patterns, and Well-Being. Developmental Psychology, 48 (2), 369-380.


How Many Digital Friends Do You Have? Facebook, Intimate Relationships, and Well-Being

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2012). How Many Digital Friends Do You Have? Facebook, Intimate Relationships, and Well-Being. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2012
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