Interview with Elizabeth A. Martin: ‘Facebook Activity and Patient’s Mental State’

Elizabeth A. Martin, doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychological Sciences at University of Missouri, recently conducted research on how Facebook activity can give clinical pictures of patients that psychologists and therapists can use for treatment. Her research shows, social media profiles can be a useful tool to study mental illness.

Recently we talked with Miss Elizabeth Martin regarding her research findings. Here we go:

Q. What is ‘schizotypy’? Will you tell us more about it and its symptoms?

Elizabeth Martin: Schizotypy encompasses a range of personality characteristics. Some people you endorse symptoms of schizotypy report decreased pleasure from social situations and others report odd beliefs.

Elizabeth A. Martin

Elizabeth A. Martin

Q. How Facebook activity offers psychologists and therapists a complete clinical picture of patients?

Elizabeth Martin: The Internet is novel way to study human psychology because it can ameliorate some of the self-report biases associated with paper-and-pencil reports. Because of the real or imagined perception of anonymity, the Internet may allow access to the unique access to the psyche.  One’s social networking information can be understood as an example of one’s naturalistic behavior. An advantage of research considering naturalistic behavior in conjunction with traditional pencil and paper psychological measures is that it can help us understand how these measures relate to meaningful, real-world, and easily understood outcomes.  This study is a first step to using social networking information to possibly providing a more complete clinical picture (i.e. more information about the individual).

Q. What if a patient has no Facebook profile or not active in any other social platforms?

Elizabeth Martin: I don’t know.  Only 1 person in our study of 211 didn’t have a Facebook page.  Further research is needed to understand this issue.

Q. Your study found that hiding Facebook activity is correlated to signs of higher levels of paranoia. Will you please elaborate your findings?

Elizabeth Martin: Participants came to the lab and completed questionnaires about their personality, including paranoid beliefs.  Then, participants were asked to log onto their own Facebook page and we, the researchers, printed out parts of their page.  Only 2 of the 211 participants refused to print out their pages.  We were not required to give a reason for declining.  After printing out the pages, participants were allowed to “black out” with a black marker any information they wished.  After all the participants were run, we systematically coded the information from their Facebook pages, including the amount of information they blacked out, and compared that information to their personality questionnaires.   The amount of information they blacked out was related to self reported levels of paranoia.

Q. Is it only schizotypy or paranoia that social media use tells about a patient’s mental state or it gives clues to other mental states as well?

Elizabeth Martin: We only investigated schizotypy and paranoia.  Further investigations are needed in order to understand the relationship between other aspects of psychopathology and social networking information.

Q. What’s your future research plan?

Elizabeth Martin: We don’t have any regarding this work at this time.

Thank you.

*Download a PDF version of the interview

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