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A decade ago, social media was barely a blip on our computer screens. The Internet was rooted in avatars and anonymous chat rooms, news groups and search engines. There were no hashtags or viral videos, no blogs, memes or Instagram photos.

“Back then the Internet was a very different-looking place,” says Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, whose studies, particularly those analyzing how we determine what to share on social media and how that reflects our personality traits, are generating international media attention and a flurry of “likes” from her peers and students. “It’s [the Internet] developed so rapidly, and now the entire world is on social media,” Seidman says.

Her recent research projects focus on the psychology of oversharing Facebook couples and how people who overshare on Facebook just want to belong. Both were featured in The Atlantic last summer, and she has served as a panel member for Huffington Post Live and regularly blogs for Psychology Today “One of the areas we’re researching is whether or not people are more comfortable expressing their true self on social media rather than in real life, even though it’s a public space,” Seidman says.

In this study, Seidman surveyed undergraduate students who used Facebook. She found that “true self” expression—traits you possess but don’t necessarily feel comfortable expressing to others in everyday life—was positively correlated with using Facebook for communicating with others, general self-disclosure, emotional disclosure, attention-seeking and acceptance-seeking, but was unrelated to seeking connection with and expressing caring for others. In a second study with then-seniors Mary Kate McCarthy ’13 and Erin Marie Poulson ’13, 41 undergraduates completed the”true self” measure, and their Facebook profiles were saved and coded.

McCarthy and Poulson found that “true self” expression was positively correlated with frequency of posting on others’ walls, but not posting on one’s own wall or receiving posts from others. “True self” expression was also positively associated with the level of personal disclosure of participants.

“These results suggest that those who feel more able to express their ‘true self’ online post on Facebook more frequently and post more personally revealing and emotional content,” Seidman says. “In one sense, [Facebook] represents communication with close others, but in another sense it approximates the communication with strangers that characterized early Internet social communication.”

Seidman, whose father was a clinical psychologist, says her passion is studying everyday behavior, isolating factors and boiling down that information into theories or principles to better explain why people do what they do. Social media has added another layer of human behavior, she says.

“I’m interested in how people would be willing to open up and reveal things to strangers on social media,” she says. “I like finding out what makes people tick.”


Ellie Herman ’15 completed an Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE) project with Seidman last summer about how personality affects how people use Facebook and Twitter. Through ACRE, Albright students can conduct research in partnership with faculty mentors like Seidman. Accepted participants receive a stipend and free room and board during the summer or January interim term to complete projects.

“Social media was not even a term 10 years ago, and nowadays, if you don’t have it or use it, you’re out of the loop,” says Herman, a psychology major and women and gender studies minor. “Dr. Seidman’s research is interesting to me because it shows just how much we use social media to express ourselves and to meet people.” That summer project provided the preliminary data and analysis for Herman’s senior thesis, “Impression accuracy of the ‘true self’ in Facebook profiles,” which will examine how we are perceived online. Seidman is her thesis adviser.

“The profile owners in this study, who provided their status updates to us, also provided traits that they believe they possess and express in their profiles,” Herman says. “We had other people read these statuses and list traits they think the owners are expressing. I then counted all the traits that matched between owner and viewer. We’re now looking for correlations and other significant findings in this data set.”

Herman, Seidman and Dayana Petrenko ’16 worked on a second ACRE project during the January interim, in which they examined how personality traits affect the positive or negative tone of a person’s Facebook status updates.

When compiling research, Seidman and her students develop a hypothesis and then use Survey Monkey to incorporate variables, design survey questionnaires and collect data. Online surveys are typically distributed campus wide or via’s Mechanical Turk program, and students use SPSS Statistics software to analyze the data. Results are often presented at conferences or submitted for publication in academic journals.

Amanda Havens ’14, a psychiatric technician at Reading Health System who has applied to medical school and plans to become a psychiatrist, completed her senior thesis, “The Effects of the Big Five Personality Traits and Relationship Satisfaction on Partner Monitoring and the Presentation of Romantic Relationships on Facebook,” with Seidman. They found that people who were more satisfied with their relationships were more likely to post couple photos and to report making affectionate comments on their partner’s wall. These people felt less of a need to keep details of their relationship private from Facebook friends, Seidman explains.

Havens presented her research at a graduate conference in Austin, Texas—a valuable experience, she says. “It was a project-based presentation, but as an undergrad, it was an amazing opportunity,” she says. “I was proud to be a part of that, and some of it prepared me to talk to people in a professional manner, which was helpful during my medical school interviews.”

Like Herman, she applauds Seidman’s research and her willingness to work so closely with students to better understand the fascinating psychology behind social media.

“So much research is about the negative results of social media and inappropriate things like cyberbullying and jealousy,” Havens says. “I like that Dr. Seidman’s work focuses on different research, personality traits and relationships. It puts a different spin on social media and makes it more interesting.”

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