Keywords: Online social networks Interpersonal interaction Social behavior Attachment theory Five Factor personality model


The relationships among attachment style, personality traits, interpersonal competency, and Facebook use

Michael A. Jenkins-Guarnieri a,⁎, Stephen L. Wright a, Lynette M. Hudiburgh b

a University of Northern Colorado, 501 20th Street, Greeley, CO 80639, United States b Miami University, 501 E. High Street, Oxford, OH 45056, United States

⁎ Corresponding author at: University of Northern Colo L-149, Campus Box 79, Greeley, CO 80639, United States. 970 351 1052.

E-mail addresses: (M.A. J (S.L. Wright), hudibulm@mu

0193-3973/$ – see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All

a b s t r a c t

a r t i c l e i n f oArticle history: Received 5 June 2011 Received in revised form 24 July 2012 Accepted 11 August 2012 Available online 2 October 2012

Keywords: Online social networks Interpersonal interaction Social behavior Attachment theory Five Factor personality model

Among emerging adult populations, the increasingly prevalent use of online social media, such as Facebook, and its relationship to individual personality traits and interpersonal relationships are of growing interest to re- searchers. The current study sought to investigate how attachment style, personality traits based on the Five Fac- tor Model, and self-esteem were related to perceptions of interpersonal competency and Facebook use. Using data collected from 463 emerging adults in college, we conducted three hierarchical multiple linear regression models which suggested that (a) extraversion was positively related to Facebook use, (b) attachment style, ex- traversion, agreeableness, and opennesswere positively related to two aspects of interpersonal competency, and (c) Facebook use was negatively related to competence with initiating interpersonal relationships. Future direc- tions for research and practical implications are also discussed.

© 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

As computer technology has becomemore accessible and affordable, new forms of media are playing an increasingly prominent role in the lives of young Americans. Brown (2006) wrote that young adults in the beginning of the 21st century “could be known as the new media generation” (p. 279) as they are increasingly engaged with some type of media for more hours than any other behavior. For college-aged populations, some of this increased use manifests in online social media and online social networking sites (SNSs), with becoming the most popular outlet. Facebook can be considered “nearly universal” on today’s college campuses (Pempek, Yermolayeva, & Calvert, 2009, p. 228), with over 900 million active users at the end of March in 2012 and more than half of all users logging in on any specific day (Facebook, 2012). As college-aged adults increasingly incorporate Facebook into their daily experience (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2011), social behavior, and interpersonal relationships, new research must seek to better understand the nature and implications of this use and the characteristics of users.

Facebook has become themost used SNS in college-aged populations (Cheung, Chiu, & Lee, 2011), comprised of young adults going through what Arnett (2000) conceptualized as a developmental period of “emerging adulthood.” Arnett described this life stage as a time of in- tense identity exploration, as young adults strive to form a stable sense of self, based on their burgeoning values and personality characteristics.

rado, 501 20th Street, Michener Tel.: +1 970 351 1632; fax: +1

enkins-Guarnieri), (L.M. Hudiburgh).

rights reserved.

In addition, these young adults sink more deeply into both platonic and romantic relationships, seeking companionship to match the character- istics of their own emerging adult identities. Arnett summarized this pe- riod as one of intense “change and exploration,” as emerging adults “examine the life possibilities open to them and gradually arrive at more enduring choices in love, work, and worldviews” (p. 479). Montgomery (2005) echoed the views of other researchers in stating that many of the traditionally adolescent developmental undertakings, such as forming an identity and developing intimacy with peers, extend past traditional developmental stages of adolescence into Arnett’s con- ceptualized period of emerging adulthood.

For emerging adults of this media generation, developmental tasks related to social behavior and interpersonal competencies are being conducted online (Brown, 2006), often through sites like Facebook. Subrahmanyam, Reich, Waechter, and Espinoza (2008) suggested that initiating interpersonal relationships and developing intimacy in close relationships are two primary goals of SNS use, while emotional support may be an integral part of this type of inti- macy (Radmacher & Azmitia, 2006). Similarly, Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2007) found that SNS users maintain established social con- nections, develop relationships, and communicate interpersonally. Consistent with Arnett’s (2000) theory, these behaviors reflect how developmental tasks of emerging adulthood, such as exploring social relationships, developing a stable social self, and forming an inter- personal communication style, are carried out through SNS like Facebook. Since this new online social media now seems to play a prominent role in the developmental social and interpersonal pro- cesses associated with emerging adulthood (Peluchette & Karl, 2010; Steinfield, Ellison, & Lampe, 2008), many social scientists and

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others are calling for more research into the nature and extent of its role in social behavior and interpersonal competency.

Personality traits, interpersonal competence, and online social behavior

Personality characteristics found to form early on and be more stable throughout an individual’s development have been shown to affect social behavior and interpersonal relationships. For example, relationship qual- ity has been associated with Bowlby’s (1969) attachment style (Brennan & Shaver, 1993; Schmitt et al., 2009), Five Factor Model (FFM) personal- ity traits (Barelds, 2005), and global self-esteem (Luteijn, 1994). Applied to online social behavior, Whitty and Gavin (2001) suggested that both online and real world relationships are formed due to personality char- acteristics and personal values. In addition, personality characteristics have been found to predict the intensity and nature of many different forms of electronic interpersonal communication, from cell phone use (Butt & Phillips, 2008) to email (Swickert, Hittner, Harris, & Herring, 2002) and Internet activity (Jackson et al., 2003).

Attachment style, interpersonal competency, and Facebook use

Attachment theory recognizes the impact of early relationships between child and caretaker on a child’s personality and lifestyle (Bowlby, 1969). The quality of a child’s attachment determines the level of security with which that child explores the world, and these early relationships form the models from which future relationships in adolescence and adulthood are developed (Bowlby, 1969). Using Brennan, Clark, and Shaver’s (1998) more recent conceptualization of attachment style, individuals can vary from low to high on two components of attachment: attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance. Attachment anxiety reflects how intensely relational or environmental stressors activate attachment needs, and attachment avoidance refers to a person’s desire for closeness in important rela- tionships. Both infant and adult attachment styles reflect the behavioral and emotional mechanisms employed by the individual to support health and well-being by fostering nurturing as well as protection from others (Fraley & Shaver, 2000). Researchers have linked adult at- tachment stylewithmany forms of interpersonal behaviors and compe- tencies from satisfaction in romantic love, friendships, and emotional functioning (Fraley & Shaver, 2000) to social self-efficacy (Wright & Perrone, 2010). Early work by Kenny and Rice (1995) suggested that at- tachment style was associated with interpersonal communication and social behavior in college-aged adults, while recent work by Wei, Russell, and Zakalik (2005) supported this association between attach- ment style and interpersonal competency as well. Although research has yet to investigate in depth the relationship between attachment style and social behavior online, attachment style’s salient connection to social behavior in offline relationships suggests its association with social behavior online as well.

Personality traits, interpersonal competency, and Facebook use

Although much more research is needed in this area, Ozer and Benet-Martínez’s (2006) review suggested that strong empirical evi- dence links FFM personality traits to aspects of interpersonal compe- tence and important relationship outcomes. These traits have been linked to practical elements of social interactions such as body posture and eye contact (Cuperman & Ickes, 2009), subjective experience with- in social interactions (Berry & Hansen, 2000), and relationship satisfac- tion (Ozer & Benet-Martínez, 2006). Applied to online contexts, some researchers have found that FFM personality traits such as Extraversion determine the type and frequency of Internet use for social purposes (Tosun & Lajunen, 2010). For example, Ross et al. (2009) found that FFM traits related to Facebook use, although less so than expected. Most recently, Correa, Hinsley, and de Zúñiga (2010) used a national sample in looking at the relationship between extraversion,

neuroticism, and openness to experience and online social media use. The authors found that these three personality traits were significantly related to frequency of use, echoing similar findings by Ross et al. Spe- cifically, they found that extraversion and openness to experience were positively associated with social media use while neuroticism was negatively related to its use.

Global self-esteem is another personality variable that has been strongly associatedwith relational quality (Murray, 2006) aswell as so- cial behavior (Mruk, 2006). In addition, self-esteem has been connected to FFM traits (Robins, Tracy, Trzesniewski, Potter, & Gosling, 2001), in- terpersonal communication (Swann & Seyle, 2006), and Facebook use (Steinfield et al., 2008). For example, Zywica and Danowski (2008) supported the role of self-esteem in online social behavior in their study on offline and online popularity. Their results suggested that indi- vidualswith higher self-esteemand extraversion aremore popular both on Facebook and in the realworld. Therefore, self-esteemmay be an im- portant personality variable to include in investigations into Facebook use and interpersonal competency.

Facebook use and interpersonal competency

Peris et al. (2002) stated that the Internet has become primarily a social technology that fulfills relational needs, and recent work by Buote, Wood, and Pratt (2009) also supported its primarily social pur- pose. Subrahmanyam et al. (2008) found that emerging adults use sites like Facebook to connect with friends made offline, and others have found that Facebook relationships seem to mainly support rela- tionships previously formed offline (Buote et al., 2009; Pempek et al., 2009). However, some work has suggested that relationships formed online may exist primarily online as often as those relationships that manifest both offline and online (Ellison et al., 2007). Mesch and Talmud (2006) argued that the perceived quality of a relationship re- lies less on the mode of communication (i.e., online or offline) than the social similarities between the two people.

Online social behavior and interpersonal competency may be more intertwined than previously believed. Valkenburg and Peter (2008) found that increased interpersonal communication onlinewas associat- ed with higher levels of real world social competence. Ellison et al. (2007) found that greater social capital was associated with increased Facebook use, supporting a potential link between interpersonal com- petency and Facebook use. Important aspects of interpersonal compe- tence, such as self-disclosure, have been associated with Facebook use as well (Mazer, Murphy, & Simonds, 2007). Although more empirical support is needed to better understand the link between interpersonal competence and SNS use, there is sufficient research to support this po- tential relationship.

Purpose of the study

Raacke (2008) encouraged further research on social networking sites, lamenting a lack of methodologically rigorous research on how these sites impact social behavior. Raacke also emphasized the need for research on the populations who use sites like Facebook most, which appears to be emerging adults in college. Considering the pervasive use of Facebook, the present study investigated how the personality characteristics of users were associated with the in- tensity of Facebook use as well as their perceptions of interpersonal competency. Specifically, the study looked at how attachment style, FFM personality traits, and self-esteem were related to the intensity of Facebook use in an emerging adult population. In addition, the study investigated how these same personality traits and intensity of Facebook use were associated with users’ perceptions of their own interpersonal competency in two domains highlighted in the lit- erature as especially relevant to online relationships in emerging adults: initiating relationships and emotional support.

296 M.A. Jenkins-Guarnieri et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 294–301

Hypothesis 1. Attachment style, FFM personality traits (extraversion, neuroticism and openness to experience), and self-esteem will explain significant proportions of variance in Facebook use intensity.

Hypothesis 2. Attachment style, FFM personality traits (extraversion, neuroticism and openness to experience), self-esteem, and Facebook use intensitywill explain significant proportions of variance in the Initi- ation and Emotional Support domains of interpersonal competency.



The sample consisted of 463 participants with a mean age of 18.36 (range of 17–24). Of those that participated, 351 (75%) were female. The self-identified ethnicities in our sample consisted of 356 (76%) Cauca- sian, 47 (10%) multi-ethnic, 41 (8%) Hispanic American, 10 (2%) African American, 8 (1.7%) Asian American, and 1 (b1%) Native American participants.


Please see Table 1 for the reliability estimates, means, and stan- dard deviations calculated from the data collected using the instru- ments described below.

Facebook intensity A targeted measure of Facebook use intensity was developed by

Ellison et al. (2007). This scale has been used as a measure of engaged Facebook use with the college-aged population (e.g., Ross et al., 2009; Valenzuela, Park, & Kee, 2009) and is comprised of eight questions about the site such as time spent logged on and number of “friends” along with questions assessing a user’s emotional attachment to and in- vestment in using the site. For the usage questions such as “About how many total Facebook friends do you have?” participants chose from nine optional ranges adapted to each specific question (e.g., 0 = 10 or less, 1 = 11–50…). For the questions assessing an individual’s level of en- gagement with the site, participants indicated their level of agreement on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree). These questions included “Facebook is a part of my ev- eryday activity” and “I feel out of touch when I haven’t logged into Facebook for a while.” As the answer scales had different ranges, re- sponses were standardized before computing a total mean score, with higher scores indicating greater Facebook use intensity. Ellison et al. (2007) found a Cronbach’s α of .83 calculated from data collected with

Table 1 Correlations and descriptive statistics for all continuous variables.

1 2 3 4 5 6

1. FB – 2. BFI E .205* – 3. BFI A −.017 .166* – 4. BFI C .056 .159* .337* – 5. BFI N −.005 −.246* −.316* −.232* – 6. BFI O .060 .240* .096 −.019 −.131* – 7. Self Esteem .054 .346* .278* .354* −.530* −.008 – 8. Anx .092 −.158* −.199* −.228* .370* .036 −.5 9. Avoid −.006 −.131 −.124 −.140* .060 .057 −.2 10. ICS Init −.020 .584* .248* .232* −.312* .229* .3 11. ICS Emo .018 .223* .284* .212* −.214* .211* .2

Note. N = 376. FB = Facebook Intensity scale standardized mean score; BFI E = BFI Extrave tiousness subscale mean, BFI N = BFI Neuroticism subscale mean, BFI O = BFI Openness sub Attachment Anxiety subscale mean, Avoid = ECR-R Attachment Avoidance subscale mean, personal Competency Scale Emotional Support subscale mean. *pb .01.

this scale, as well as significant relationships between their scale and measures of social capital as expected given their hypotheses.

Self-esteem Self-esteem was measured using a 10-item scale developed by

Rosenberg (1965), which uses a 4-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 4 (Strongly Agree). Items included “On the whole, I am satisfied with myself,” “I feel I do not have much to be proud of,” and “I feel that I have a number of good qualities.” The responses were aggregated,with scores being reverse-codedas needed in order for higher scores to represent a higher level of self-esteem. Results from several large studies supported its convergent and discriminant validity and internal consistency (Cronbach’s α = .91) (Sinclair et al., 2010), as well as its use with college students (Schmitt & Allik, 2005).

Attachment The Experiences in Close Relationships—Revised (ECR-R; Fraley,

Waller, & Brennan, 2000) is a measure of adult attachment using 36 items constituting two 18-item subscales called Attachment Anxiety and Attachment Avoidance. Participants were asked to rate how they experience close relationships in general, not just their current relation- ship, on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree) on questions such as “I prefer not to be too close to ro- mantic partners,” “I rarely worry about my partner leaving me,” and “I usually discuss my problems and concerns with my partner.” Fairchild and Finney (2006) provided strong construct validity evidence for the ECR-R using a college student population, while recent research has shown responses to this scale to be internally consistent: Cronbach’s α = .93 and .94 for the Attachment Anxiety and Avoidance subscales, respectively (Sibley, Fischer, & Liu, 2005).

Five Factor Model traits The Five FactorModel (FFM; Digman, 1990;McCrae & John, 1992) is

now awidely accepted taxonomy of stable personality traits (McCrae & Costa, 2003). This model captures five traits, Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness, shown to be relative- ly stable aspects of personality that last throughout adulthood. The FFM personality traits were measured using the Big Five Inventory (BFI; John, Naumann, & Soto, 2008), which consisted of 44 items to which respondents indicated their agreement with item statements using a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (Disagree Strongly) to 5 (Agree Strongly). This scale has demonstrated adequate Cronbach’s α reliability estimates ranging from .75 to .90with data fromU.S. samples, as well as considerable evidence for convergent and discriminant valid- ity (John et al., 2008).

7 8 9 10 11 α Mean Standard deviation

.85 .017 .69

.87 3.46 0.78

.75 3.99 0.56

.79 3.72 0.60

.80 2.76 0.71

.74 3.69 0.56

.86 31.65 5.01 27* – .94 3.24 1.29 03* .335* – .94 2.94 1.19 40* −.261* −.198* – .86 3.41 0.80 57* −.137* −.238* .386* – .88 4.29 0.61

rsion subscale mean; BFI A = BFI Agreeableness subscale mean, BFI C = BFI Conscien- scale mean, Self Esteem = Rosenberg’s Self Esteem Scale sum total score, Anx = ECR-R ICS Init = Interpersonal Competency Scale Initiation subscale mean, ICS Emo = Inter-

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Interpersonal competence The Interpersonal Competence Scale (ICS), developedby Buhrmester,

Furman, Wittenberg, and Reis (1988) was used to assess competence with and confidence in interpersonal communication competence. The ICS contains 40 items that measure five constructs associated with interpersonal competence in relationships: Initiation (initiating re- lationships), Disclosure (disclosing personal information), Negative Assertion (asserting displeasure with others), Emotional Support (providing emotional support and advice), and Conflict Management (managing interpersonal conflict). Each item was answered using a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (I’m poor at this; I’d feel so uncomfortable and unable to handle this situation that I would avoid it if possible) to 5 (I’m very good at this; I’d feel very comfortable and could handle this situation easily). The original study reported a mean Cronbach’s α reliability coefficient of .83 for all the subscales scores (ranging from .77 to .87), and initial support for its validity and factor structure (Buhrmester et al., 1988). Six items were ex- cluded from this scale in the present study due to survey error, resulting in 1 item being removed from each subscale and 2 items being removed from the Conflict Management Subscale. However, Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for the present study’s data (as shown in Table 1) were higher than for the full 40-item original scale.


Participants were recruited at a medium size (N = 13,000) Rocky Mountain Region research university, and data were collected via the Internet. An invitation email was sent to potential participants with an accompanying link to an online survey hosted by the web site Sur- vey Monkey ( First, all participants completed an informed consent process approved by the authors’ university’s Internal Review Board (IRB). Next, participantswere direct- ed to complete the measures described above. It was determined that the analyses would require at least 119 participants given amedium ef- fect size (R2 = .13, power = .80, α = .05) using Green’s (1991) two-step procedure for determining sample size, based on Cohen’s (1988) guidelines for power and effect size. Although web-based sur- veys often yield a response rate 10% lower than other survey methods, entry into a raffle for a $100 iTunes gift card as an incentive was offered for study participation to improve the response rate (Fan & Yan, 2010). The response rate for the current study was 18.76%, which was within the expected range for survey response rates of 15% to 25% (Crawford, Couper, & Lamias, 2001).

Data analyses

All statistical analyses were conducted using PASW Statistics soft- ware (Release 17.0.2). To determine how the independent variables explained variability in Facebook use intensity and in two aspects of in- terpersonal competency (Initiation and Emotional Support), three hier- archical multiple linear regression models were used. After entering participant sex into each model in the first step, we relied on theory to determine order of entry for the remaining variables (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). We entered attachment style in the second step, given its genesis in infancy and early caregiver relationships (Bowlby, 1969). The FFM traits were entered in the third step, as they were theorized to emerge early in development and be relatively stable throughout adulthood (McCrae & Costa, 2003). Although some previous research provided support for extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to expe- rience explaining significant proportions of variance in Facebook use in- tensity, all five FFM traits were entered into this step given the mixed and sparse results on the relationships between FFM traits and Facebook use in the current literature. Self-esteem was entered in the final step, given its potential links to online social behavior (Zywica & Danowski, 2008). In the second and third models, Facebook use

intensity was entered as a fifth step to evaluate its relationship to as- pects of interpersonal competence while controlling for previously entered variables.

As significance testing for multiple analyses were performed, a Bonferroni adjustment was used to decrease the likelihood of com- mitting a Type I error (α = .05/3 = .016). To assess the assumptions necessary for multiple linear regression, reliability coefficient esti- mates were calculated from the scales’ data; residuals plots, histo- grams of residuals, and normal probability plots were also analyzed. To assess for potential outliers, standardized residuals plots were an- alyzed and absolute values greater than 3.3 were considered to be outliers (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). To check for any potential collin- earity in the data, the bivariate correlation matrix was analyzed be- tween the independent variables as well as condition indices; a condition index greater than 30 paired with high proportions of explained variance (i.e., .50) on two or more variables was taken to indicate moderate to strong collinearity (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001). In the case of collinearity, we investigated the presence of suppressor variables and removed any from the final models.


For all continuous variables included in these analyses, descriptive statistics and bivariate correlations were calculated and are presented in Table 1.

Personality characteristics and Facebook use

To investigate how personality characteristics were related to var- iance in intensity of Facebook use, a hierarchical multiple linear re- gression analysis was conducted with Facebook use intensity as the dependent variable. The following explanatory variables were en- tered into the first model: participant sex in step 1, attachment style in step 2, FFM traits in step 3, and self-esteem in step 4. Cases with missing values on continuous variables were addressed using listwise deletion, as the pattern of missing data was due primarily to participants not completing the survey, most likely by closing their web browser before answering all of the online survey items. For this model, data from 380 participants were available of the 455 participants who reported having a Facebook account (16.4% missing data). Analysis of standardized residuals and a normal probability plot suggested that no significant deviations from the assumptions of normality, linearity, independence of residuals, or homoscedastici- ty were present in these data; standardized residuals for this analysis ranged from −2.80 to 2.35. Although there were significant bivariate correlations between independent variables, the order of entry into the model addressed any potential collinearity by obtaining the unique contribution of explained variance attributable to indepen- dent variables. Condition indices and accompanying variance propor- tions were within acceptable limits (i.e., less than 30), which suggested that multicollinearity did not significantly affect these re- sults (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001).

The results from this analysis suggested that only the inclusion of the BFI subscales in step 3 accounted for a significant increase of explained variance in Facebook use intensity, and that specifically, Extraversion was significantly associated with the outcome; Table 2 lists the associated regression coefficients for each variable, as well as adjusted R2 and F change statistics for each step. Accompanying part correlations indicated that scores on the BFI Extraversion subscale explained approximately 3.75% of unique variance in inten- sity of Facebook use, above and beyond that explained by sex, attach- ment style, and the other four BFI subscale scores. These results suggested that greater extraversion was associated with increased in- tensity of Facebook use, after controlling for the other variables in- cluded in the model.

Table 2 Hierarchical regression results for model explaining Facebook use.

Explanatory variable B SE B β t value p value Adj R2 F change

Step 1 .005 2.783 Sex .138 .083 .084 1.668 .096

Step 2 .014 2.775 Anx .067 .029 .125 2.337 .020 Avoid −.033 .031 −.056 −1.055 .292

Step 3 .052 4.153* BFI E .185 .047 .210 3.926* b.001 BFI A −.092 .070 −.073 −1.311 .191 BFI C .056 .063 .049 0.903 .367 BFI N −.032 .060 −.032 −.533 .594 BFI O .011 .064 .009 0.178 .859

Step 4 .052 .985 Self‐esteem .009 .009 .068 0.992 .322

Note. N= 380. Anx= ECR-R Attachment Anxiety subscale; Avoid = ECR-R Attachment Avoidance subscale; BFI E = BFI Extraversion subscale; BFI A = BFI Agreeableness subscale; BFI C = BFI Conscientiousness subscale; BFI N = BFI Neuroticism subscale; BFI O = BFI Openness subscale; Self Esteem = Rosenberg’s Self Esteem Scale sum total score. *pb .05.

298 M.A. Jenkins-Guarnieri et al. / Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 33 (2012) 294–301

Personality characteristics, Facebook use, and interpersonal competence

To investigate how personality characteristics and intensity of Facebook use explained variance in perceived interpersonal compe- tence with initiating relationships and providing emotional support, two separate hierarchical multiple linear regression analyses were conducted with the Initiation and Emotional Support subscales of the ICS as the dependent variables. The following explanatory vari- ables were entered into both models following the same sequence described earlier, with sex entered in step 1, attachment style added in step 2, FFM traits entered in step 3, self-esteem in step 4, and Facebook use intensity in step 5. Cases with missing values on contin- uous independent variables were addressed using listwise deletion, leaving data from 364 total participants available for the final step of each analysis (20% missing data). No evidence of assumptions vio- lations or collinearity were present in the data for these analyses, and 3 cases that had standardized residuals below −3.3 were removed from the analysis (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001).

The results for the analysis with Emotional Support as the depen- dent variable are presented in Table 3, and suggested that only step 2, which included the attachment variables, and step 3, which contained the FFM traits, explained a statistically significant proportion of vari- ance in Emotional Support subscale scores. More specifically, these results suggested that scores on the Attachment Avoidance subscale of the ECR-R were significantly associated with the outcome and explained approximately 4.66% of unique variance in Emotional

Table 3 Multiple linear regression models explaining interpersonal competency scale (ICS) emotion

Step 1 β Step 2 β

Emo Init Emo Init

Sex .087 −.011 .082 −.036 Attachment anxiety −.047 −.251* Attachment avoidance −.231* −.087 BFI extraversion BFI agreeableness BFI conscientiousness BFI neuroticism BFI openness Self-esteem Facebook use Adjusted R2 .005 b.001 .063 .085 F change 2.86 0.046 12.49* 17.23*

Note. N = 364. Emo = ICS Emotional Support subscale, Init = ICS Initiation subscale, BFI = *pb .05.

Support, after controlling for participant sex and Attachment Anxiety. In addition, scores on the BFI Agreeableness and Openness subscales explained approximately 2% and 2.65% of unique variance in Emo- tional Support, respectively, after controlling for the variables entered earlier in the model. The results for the second analysis with Initiation as the dependent variable suggested that step 2, which included at- tachment style, step 3, which contained the FFM traits, and step 5, which included Facebook use intensity, explained statistically signifi- cant proportions of variance in Initiation subscale scores. More specif- ically, scores on the Attachment Anxiety subscale of the ECR-R explained approximately 5.5% of the variance in Initiation, after con- trolling for participant sex and Attachment Avoidance. In addition, scores on the BFI Extraversion subscale explained approximately 19.62% of unique variance in Initiation, after controlling for the vari- ables entered earlier in the model. Lastly, Facebook use intensity scores were significantly associated with the outcome and explained approximately 1.8% of unique variance in Initiation, after controlling for all variables entered earlier in the model.


The results from the current study provide insight into how person- ality characteristics are related to emerging adults’ use intensity of Facebook and areas of perceived interpersonal competency. Our first hypothesis was partially supported, as we found that only Extraversion was positively related to the intensity of Facebook use after controlling for attachment style. Additionally, we found that self-esteem, attach- ment style and other FFM personality traits (i.e., agreeableness, consci- entiousness, neuroticism, or openness) were not significantly related to Facebook use. These results align with Ryan and Xenos (2011), who found that an Australian group of individuals who used Facebook were more extroverted, and suggested that specific and newer features (e.g., Chat application) of Facebook may attract more extraverted indi- viduals to use Facebook. Related research has found that having a moderately large number of friends on Facebook was positively re- lated to perceptions of the Facebook profile owner’s level of extra- version (Tong, Van Der Heide, Langwell, & Walther, 2008). In explaining these connections, researchers have also found a posi- tive correlation between extraversion and frequency of online communication and online self-disclosure (Peter, Valkenburg, & Schouten, 2005). Similarly, Ellison et al.’s (2011) study suggested that Facebook use may help individuals increase their connection strategies, which may explain why Facebook users may tend to be more extroverted individuals.

While our findings indicated a positive relationship between Ex- traversion and the intensity of Facebook use, prior research using a small sample (N = 97) of Ontario college students did not find a

al support and initiation subscales.

Step 3 β Step 4 β Step 5 β

Emo Init Emo Init Emo Init

.093 −.064 .093 −.064 .096 −.051

.058 −.127 .098 −.116 .104 −.091 −.225 −.049 −.222 −.049 −.222 −.052 .088 .483* .061 .476 .067 .502 .160* .069 .156 .067 .153 .057 .083 .099 .064 .094 .065 .101

−.126 −.081 −.084 −.070 −.085 −.072 .173* .121 .184 .124 .185 .128

.127 .034 .130 .044 −.031 −.141*

.185 .423 .191 .424 .190 .442 12.08* 42.74* 3.86 0.370 0.419 12.02*

Big Five Inventory.

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significant relationship between extraversion and time spent online, but instead found extraversion to be significantly related to an in- crease in group membership on Facebook (Ross et al., 2009). Addi- tionally, Ross et al. (2009) found neuroticism and openness to be related to Facebook use, whereas our results did not support this find- ing once attachment style was accounted for. Therefore, our findings provide novel information about attachment’s potentially significant role in intensity of Facebook use, and further research should investi- gate this area.

The current study also examined how perceived competency with social skills involved in initiating relationships and providing emotional support were related to personality characteristics and Facebook use. The second hypothesis of the present study was somewhat supported. Although self-esteem, conscientiousness, and neuroticism were not re- lated to these two areas of interpersonal competency (i.e., initiation and emotional support), there were significant findings between the areas of interpersonal competency and the other variables of interests (i.e., Facebook use intensity, attachment style, extraversion, agree- ableness, and openness). Specifically, the results suggest that greater intensity of Facebook use was associated with perceptions of de- creased interpersonal competency at initiating relationships, after controlling for other relevant personality variables. Interestingly, in- tensity of Facebook use did not explain any unique variance in pro- viding emotional support. Other research suggests that individuals who indicate higher levels of shyness report closer and more satisfying online relationships than offline relationships (Sheeks & Birchmeier, 2007; Stritzke, Nguyen, & Durkin, 2004), whichmay bewhyparticipants that reported lower levels of perceived competency at initiating relation- ships reported higher levels of Facebook use. Similarly, Ryan and Xenos (2011) found that lonely individuals focus onmore passive, less interac- tive features of Facebook and spendmore time on Facebook per day than non-lonely individuals. Furthermore, the lack of non-verbal cues and an- onymity provided by the Internet have been shown to enable more dis- closure and to facilitate the formation of meaningful relationships for some people, with individuals experiencing greater feelings of intimacy than would have been experienced in an offline social relationship (Kang, 2007; McKenna, Green, & Gleason, 2002; Tidwell & Walther, 2002; Walther, 1996). In these studies, the anonymity of online com- munication may have made it easier for individuals to initiate rela- tionships through SNS, which may also explain why we found lower levels of perceived competency at initiating relationships re- lated to increased Facebook use.

Previously, Ellison et al. (2011) found that using Facebook to initiate connectionswith otherswithout any prior offline connection did not in- fluence social capital scores related to the benefits from close relation- ships or the benefits from casual acquaintances and connections. However, using a Facebook connection strategy related to gaining more information about others did influence social capital scores (Ellison et al., 2011). These researchers concluded that Facebook can bring together individuals and facilitate communication between them by finding common ground based on shared interests. Therefore, incorporating these findings with our results, it is possible that individ- uals who use Facebook only for communication with others without any prior connection may have lower interpersonal competency. This is another area that warrants further investigation.

In regards to perceived interpersonal competency, we found that at- tachment anxiety was negatively associated with initiating relation- ships after controlling for attachment avoidance and participant sex. These results support other research that has also demonstrated that at- tachment anxiety was negatively related to interpersonal communica- tion competencies and social competencies (Anders & Tucker, 2000; Mallinckrodt & Wei, 2005). In addition, attachment avoidance did not explain any additional information beyond attachment anxiety in per- ceptions of competency with initiating relationships. According to at- tachment theory, anxious attachment is related to an individual’s fear of rejection and abandonment in relationships (Brennan et al., 1998).

Therefore, our findings suggest that, when individuals may be less vig- ilant about being rejected and abandoned in relationships, they per- ceive themselves as more competent at initiating relationships. The implications of this finding seem to indicate that these individuals are more likely to follow through at initiating relationships because they feel more competent to do so and have decreased anxiety about rejec- tion and abandonment.

Attachment avoidance was associated with perceived interpersonal competency of emotional support after controlling for participant sex and attachment anxiety, which aligns with previous research as well (e.g., Hunter, Davis, & Tunstall, 2006). Our findings were also theoreti- cally consistent with attachment theory in that attachment avoidance is associated with a person’s hesitance to become intimate or close with others (Brennan et al., 1998), which in turn may be related to lower perceptions of competency with providing emotional support. Taken together, both attachment anxiety and avoidance were associat- ed with perceived interpersonal competency, as the less anxious indi- viduals were about rejection and the more at ease individuals were with interpersonal closeness, the more comfortable they may have felt in their abilities to initiate relationships and provide emotional support. Accordingly, individuals with decreased perceived interpersonal com- petency may be less likely to initiate offline relationships, which may thus explain their increased use of Facebook. However, social network- ing sites allow for emerging adults to remain connected to friends and family members (Subrahmanyam et al., 2008), which may provide these young adults with opportunities to access attachment systems when faced with developmental issues. Specifically, Facebook is often used to communicate with established, trustworthy friends (Pempek et al., 2009) and could be used to maintain secure attachments with these individuals throughout the developmental changes of the emerg- ing adulthood stage. Furthermore, ourfindings support the idea that the secure attachments individuals formmay enable them to increase their perceived interpersonal competency.

Finally, we examined the relationship between perceived interper- sonal competency and the big five personality characteristics. We found that extraversion was associated with perceived interpersonal competency at initiating relationships after controlling for participant sex, attachment, and the other FFM traits. These results, which were consistent with prior research, suggest that individuals with higher levels of extraversion also have higher levels of perceived competency at initiating relationships (Wanberg & Kammeyer-Mueller, 2000). As extraverts tend to be socially skilled, have strong verbal skills, and enjoy meaningful relationships (McCown, Fischer, Rage, & Hamant, 2001), these characteristics are likely reflected in their online social in- teractions as well, such aswith Facebook use (Ryan & Xenos, 2011).We found that both openness and agreeableness were related to percep- tions of competency with emotional support after controlling for sex, attachment, and the other FFM traits. These results suggest that being open with others and agreeable in nature plays a unique and helpful role in providing emotional support in relationships.

Limitations and future research directions

Our results may be affected by a number of methodological flaws. The cross-sectional design only provided information about a specific time period in the participants’ lives, whichmay not have offered an ac- curate representation of the constructs studied. A longitudinal study ex- amining how personality characteristics influence Facebook use over a period of time would be very beneficial, especially given the growing number of Facebook users, evolving SNS technologies, and changing methods for integration of social networking sites into daily life. Al- though small incentives were used, our study suffered from significant participant attrition resulting in a distinct pattern of missing data, which most likely can be explained by participants exiting the online study survey by closing their web browser window before finishing all the survey items. This pattern of attrition may have biased our

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results, for example, those participants who exited the surveymay have differed from thosewho completed all the items on some of the person- ality traits under study, thus potentially biasing our data.

Generalizations made based on our findings should be restricted to the unique characteristics of our sample, whichwas composed of most- ly Caucasian female undergraduate college students living in the Rocky Mountain region. With the expanded use of the Internet, researchers could replicate our study using a more diverse and nationally represen- tative sample. Another limitation to the studywas using only self-report instruments, whichmay have caused amono-method bias and could be addressed in future studies by utilizing additional methods to collect data, such as qualitative methods or mixed method designs. Measure- ment error from the instruments and the steps in which the variables were entered into the regression models may have contributed to some of our findings being nonsignificant. In addition, we used a con- servative Bonferroni adjustment to our overall alpha level to control for potential Type I errors, which impacted our results. One option would be to conduct future research using more sophisticated data analysis, such as structural equation modeling to account for the mea- surement error. The six missing items from the ICS scale, due to survey error, may have limited our findings as well. However, as mentioned earlier, Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for the present study’s data were higher than for the full 40-item original scale. Thus, future researchers could explore further modification to the length of the ICS.


In conclusion, the results of this study suggest it is important to con- sider extraversion’s role in Facebook use intensity. Furthermore, the personality traits of attachment, extraversion, agreeableness, and open- nessmay play a significant role in how individuals perceive their level of competence at initiating relationships and providing emotional support in relationships. Given the increase in Facebook use among emerging adults, further research is needed to better understand the relationship between users’ personality traits and the nature and extent of their on- line social behavior.


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  • The relationships among attachment style, personality traits, interpersonal competency, and Facebook use
    • Personality traits, interpersonal competence, and online social behavior
    • Attachment style, interpersonal competency, and Facebook use
    • Personality traits, interpersonal competency, and Facebook use
    • Facebook use and interpersonal competency
    • Purpose of the study
    • Method
      • Participants
      • Instrumentation
        • Facebook intensity
        • Self-esteem
        • Attachment
        • Five Factor Model traits
        • Interpersonal competence
      • Procedures
      • Data analyses
    • Results
      • Personality characteristics and Facebook use
      • Personality characteristics, Facebook use, and interpersonal competence
    • Discussion
      • Limitations and future research directions
      • Conclusion
    • References