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WIU Department of Communication Assistant Professor Chris Carpenter served as an invited Oxford Union Society speaker on the motion, "This House Believes Social Media has Successfully Reinvented Social Activism," in England in May 2012.

WIU Communication Professor Publishes New Study about Facebook and Romantic Relationships

April 23, 2013


MACOMB, IL – A Western Illinois University faculty member who published a widely covered study about Facebook and narcissism last year has authored another study about Facebook and romantic relationships.

WIU Department of Communication Assistant Professor Christopher Carpenter, with his co-author Erin Spottswood (Cornell University), have authored, "Exploring romantic relationships on social networking sites using the self-expansion model," which will appear in the July 2013 journal issue of Computers in Human Behavior. According to Carpenter, in the study, the co-authors found the more past romantic relationships the participants had, the more interests they listed in their Facebook profiles.

"I predicted this relationship because other research suggested that part of romantic relationship development involves adopting new interests and behaviors from one's partner," he said. "I also found that people who report appearing in more photos with their partners on Facebook and who regularly tag their partner in their status updates tend to have closer romantic relationships."

In humans, the self-expansion model—per a seminal study authored by State University of New York, Stony Brook, Psychology Professor Arthur Aron and Elaine Aron, author of the book, "The Highly Sensitive Person"—asserts the desire to grow is a key motivation. One of the key sources of this need to expand one's self is derived from romantic relationships.

Carpenter said he studies humans' interactions on Facebook and social networks because the online networks offer a unique window into people's lives.

"We can't follow people around with a tape recorder getting a record of what they say all day. Facebook, on the other hand, offers us the chance to see one part of that record. We can see how often people interact with their romantic partners on Facebook, what they say to each other and how they present themselves on their profiles," he explained. "As for this specific study, I had read about self-expansion theory and I began wondering if we ever truly cut ties with someone when we break up. We might not see that person anymore, but when we develop a relationship with someone, we take on some of their interests and traits and, in many cases, hang on to them long after we break up. Facebook offered a unique way of examining the extent to which those traces of past relationships remain in our profiles."

Carpenter said the study's sample included 276 respondents who answered questions about their relationship histories and social networking sites uses, while a subset of the sample (149 participants) answered additional questions about their current romantic partners.

In addition to receiving wide media attention about his 2012 study, "Narcissism on Facebook: Self-promotional and Anti-social Behavior" (published in the journal, Personality and Individual Differences, March 2012), Carpenter served as an invited Oxford Union Society speaker on the motion, "This House Believes Social Media has Successfully Reinvented Social Activism," in England in May last year.

Carpenter earned his bachelor's degree in psychology from North Central College (2004), where he was the 2002 Pi Kappa Delta National Policy debate champion. He earned his master's degree in communication studies from Northern Illinois University (2006) and his Ph.D. (2010) in communication from Michigan State University.

For more information, contact Carpenter at CJ-Carpenter2@wiu.edu.

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg, University Relations
Phone: (309) 298-1993 * Fax: (309) 298-1606