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Neuroticism and its Effects on College Students and Social Media Usage

Mikayla Nelson and Rebecca Ekert

Concordia College


Our study looked at disclosure online and friend acceptance among people with the

neurotic personality trait. We created a survey using questions from the Big Five Personality

Inventory to determine the level of neuroticism as well as extraversion and created question

about social media usage in regards to disclosure. We then took our results of 217 participants

and made a neurotic and non-neurotic group based on their scores and measured the correlation

between neuroticism and social media disclosure as well as extraversion and social media


Social media plays a very active role in society today. We use it in our daily lives to

communicate with family, friends and people from all over the world. But when it comes to

social media, how willing are we to share personal information, such as mental health concerns,

online? Mental health is becoming a rising problem throughout the United States and across the

globe and the stigma behind creates a problem for those who are affected. We studied the effects

of personality, specifically neuroticism, on both friend acceptance and disclosure of mental

illness and or general personal information on social media websites. Seeing how these two

things interact can benefit how people live and communicate regarding mental health, getting

help and support and possibly fighting against the mental illness stigma. It was difficult to find

research already done on this specific topic, which is probably a good reason to study it, but I

could find related research regarding social media and disclosure as well as personality traits and

general social media behavior.

Because social media is becoming so popular and the vast majority of individuals are

using it to be present in the world, psychologists have begun conducting research to use this new

platform to look at things that were only possible in person before. It does raise the question of

can we use this new platform in order to more easily gather information. Some psychologists

have been looking into manifestation of depression on social media, if this can be accurately

measured and what this means in relation to social support and other factors. In a study

conducted to determine if disclosure of depressive symptoms can be used to diagnose depression,

it was found that posts about depressive symptoms were generally correlated with participants

who had minor, not moderate or severe, depression (Moreno et. al. 2012). This study is a starting

point for trying to improve mental health services through other outputs than have been used in

the past, and it shows that a correlation can be found between posting about negative depressive

emotions and depression. Of course, there is a lot left to study with this kind of phenomenon.

Surely not everyone who has depression is willing to post about it on Facebook, but it is a start in

trying to find new ways to study mental health and social media usage.

Park et al (2016) conducted a study where the relation between depression and social

media found that while former findings suggesting people with depression have social support

deficits, this study found that in the case of online relationships they only had perceived support

deficits. This study found that when people with depression posted negative remarks, they

received social support from friends. However, these people still perceived their support to be

much lower than what it really was (Park et. al 2016). While the participants with depression

perceived that their support was lower, this study does suggest that social support online is

positively correlated with negative disclosure. This shows that social media could potentially be

a good resource for helping people with depression get the support that they need. This could

especially be true for people who have social anxiety or other factors that may limit their face to

face interaction or willingness to go to a therapist. It can be the starting point of finding resources

and opening someone up to therapy before getting them fully involved in the whole process.

Both of these studies on depression and social media are opening up avenues for conducting

research and helping people through this medium that people seem to deem as bad or distracting.

Van et al (2011) talked about the use of online chatting in relation to the reduction of

depressive symptoms (Van et al, 2011). Van (2011) discovered that among less extroverted

individuals, chatting online was indirectly beneficial for reducing depressive symptoms because

it gave a sense of support (Van et al, 2011, 1212). Although, this research doesn’t directly relate

to our study of neuroticism and social media, it does give us a factor that could interfere with our

research. We might want to keep in mind, that levels of extraversion and or introversion might

cause a fluctuation in our data as well as neuroticism.

There has also been quite a bit of research done on personality traits and their relation

with Facebook usage. A lot of this research has focused on if people can accurately guess the

personality traits of someone based on their profiles, but personality traits and usage of Facebook

has also been studied. In one study, it was found that most of the time, people could predict

personality with a fair amount of accuracy based on someone’s profile. The main effect was seen

with the participants accurately assuming the level of extraversion from a specific profile. The

study also found that certain cues were not picked up and some personality traits were more

readable than others. This study also found that extraversion, as in real life, is an indicator of

being more sociable, finding more friends and increased interaction on the site (Gosling et. al.

2011). These kinds of studies are opening the door into further study of personality traits and

what they could mean. Facebook is often a place that employers look at, and if they are making

assumptions about openness and extraversion based on a Facebook profile, these types of studies

seek to understand that. Furthermore, it shows a basis that extraversion can lead to increased

involvement in social media outlets and provides information for further research into the effect

of the Big Five personalities on Facebook usage.

A study done by Zalk et al (2014) is based on introversion and online only, conjoint and

offline only friendships (Zalk et al, 2014). It was concluded that having online exclusive

friendships can prove beneficial to introverted adolescents because it gives them a safe and

controlled environment to gain self-esteem (Zalk et al, 2014, 145). This is similar findings to the

last few sources I have discussed above. Introversion can have a large impact on social media


A study conducted by Siedman (2013), looked at the Big Five Personality traits,

including neuroticism, and how that impacts their use of social media and their motivations that

may drive this behavior. When looking at neuroticism, this study discussed that neurotic

individuals on social media may seek acceptance by others, are often afraid of rejection, have

low self-esteem and feel that they can get support with things that they feel would burden others

offline (Siedman et al, 2013, 404). Neuroticism is linked to social anxiety and often, neurotic

individuals look to Facebook or social media as a safe place for self-expression and often present

themselves differently or as their idealized self online (Siedman et al, 2013, 404). This idea

seems to go along with our hypothesis about neurotic individuals and their social media

behaviors. We think that neurotic individuals will be more cautious when accepting friend

requests and will disclose very little about their personal life or mental illness. However, the

ideas presented in this article about neurotic individuals seeking acceptance online seems to

contradict the idea that they will be more cautious about personal issues online. This study

doesn’t look specifically at mental illness disclosure, or disclosure at all, it does give us a sense

that neurotic individuals may be less likely to reach out for help online.

Another study on the Big Five personalities did find some information in relation to

Facebook usage and neuroticism as well. They found that neuroticism was related to

communication and information-seeking, believing that this may be how people with high

neuroticism who fear rejection may keep up to date on information about others. They also found

that neuroticism was not related to acceptance seeking which is in contrast with other studies of

this nature and suggests further research on this topic. Furthermore it was found that neuroticism

is associated with self-disclosure and disclosure of emotions, likely due to the relationship

between neuroticism and the need to present themselves and their problems to others (Seidman

2013). So, here is a foundation for looking at how the different aspects of the Big Five test can

have an effect on a person’s interaction on Facebook. It is particularly interesting that they did

not find that neuroticism was related to acceptance-seeking as that is different than some other

studies, and they suggest further research on neuroticism. The fact that neuroticism is related to

disclosure of emotions is also a basis for my research.

Marshall, Lefringhausen & Ferenczi (2015) found that individuals with high neuroticism

seek attention they are missing in real life in social media, are more frequently on social media,

using Facebook for socialization and talking about emotions. In the specific study it was found

that there was no correlation between neuroticism and using Facebook for expressing themselves

based on the parameters set up, but it was correlated with attention seeking which is in direct

contrast with the last study (Marshall, Lefringhausen, & Ferenczi, 2015). So, newer studies are

now finding correlation between attention-seeking and neuroticism and there has been a lot more

progress in this field since the inception of Facebook. There is a lot of supporting data that

suggests a correlation between neuroticism and emotional disclosure on Facebook, as of yet little

data exists on friends in relation to neuroticism. I seek to expand the knowledge of neuroticism

in relation to Facebook usage, depression disclosure and number of friends.

Though there wasn’t a lot of information on our specific topics of neuroticism and social

media disclosure, there was good research on the different aspects of our proposed study. I think

the fact that there is less research on neuroticism and its effects on social media usage and friend

requests gives us a good reason to do more research about it. There was not much information

on disclosing mental illness on social media specifically, many talked about self-disclosure in

general which can still be useful when doing our own research.


Through our research of previous studies, it was found that there have been several

studies that have focused on Big Five personality tests and what the results may mean for

behavior on social media. All the studies have suggested further research in this area as it could

be used in the future to help with mental illness. Many have suggested it could be used as a tool

to notice signs of mental illness or encourage those with mental illness to seek counseling online

as it may be easier than going to a doctor or discussing worry of an illness with their parents. We

were, as many researchers were as well, particularly interested in the effects of neuroticism on

online disclosure. Neuroticism often times results in anxiety which can put strain on a person’s

ability to make friends and have conversations in person. So, as past studies have found positive

correlations between neuroticism and various behaviors on social media, we decided to

determine if people with high neuroticism were more likely to disclose their feelings online

rather than to someone in person. With that in mind we devised a survey that would be

distributed to Concordia College students in an attempt to determine a difference of behaviors

between college students with high neuroticism and lower neuroticism. It was proposed that

individuals with high neuroticism were more likely to disclose feelings online than they were in

person and were also less likely to be lenient on friend request acceptance



This study will use a sample of 217 Concordia College students. They will be a mixture

of Caucasian females and males, ages 18-22, with a potential ability to have participants of other

races but the population is majorly white. They will all be given the same questionnaire and will

complete and return it within the data collection time period via a survey website.


Individuals who agree to participate in the study will open the link to the website where

they will complete the 32 question survey. They will read the consent form and sign it and then

complete the questionnaire. This survey includes questions from the Big Five Personality Test to

determine neuroticism, and extroversion so we can control for that, questions about social media

usage, disclosure of emotions, friend request acceptance, and time spent online. This questions

will be answered on a 1 to 5 scale, one being strongly disagree and five being strongly agree. The

answers to this questionnaire will be examined to determine a correlation between neuroticism

and disclosure of feelings online as well as acceptance of friend requests.

We organized our data into two groups neurotic and non-neurotic. We calculated a score

for each participant using their responses. We asked a total of 6 neuroticism questions and

calculated that the highest score they could get was a 30 and the lowest was a 6. Anybody who

had a score from 6 to 17 was placed in the non-neurotic group and anybody with a score of 18 to

30 was placed into the neurotic group. We did the same scoring system for extraversion and

online disclosure, but with different scales depending on the number of questions and total

possible points.


Online Disclosure:

We split up our 217 person sample into a neurotic and non-neurotic group. In the

neurotic group there were 101 participants. Using SPSS we did a correlation of the neuroticism

scores and the online disclosure. It showed that there was a weak to no correlation between the

two groups. (See figures 1 and 2)

We split up our 217 person sample into a neurotic and non-neurotic group. In the non-

neurotic group there were 116 participants. Using SPSS we did a correlation of the non-

neuroticism scores and the online disclosure. It showed that there was a weak to no correlation

between the two groups. (See figures 3 and 4)

Friend Requests:

We also wanted to determine if there was a relationship between the types of friend

requests that people with neuroticism would accept verses people with lower neuroticism. On our

survey we asked the participants to assign a percentage to 5 different categories of friends: close

family, distant family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. We then averaged the answers and

put the data into pie charts (Fig. 5 & 6). It can be noted that Neurotic individuals report on

average 10% of their friends being close family, while on average the percentage was 29% for

non-neurotic individuals. A reverse finding can be found for distant family, where neurotic

individuals report more friends in this area than non-neurotic people. The numbers for friends

and acquaintances were similar. But, those with neurotic tendencies said on average they had

about 5% of their friends being strangers, while non-neurotic individuals stated closer to an

average of 1%.


When we split up the groups by neuroticism we did correlations to determine if there was

any trend between neuroticism and talking about problems on social media. Both groups showed

little to no trend at all. This goes completely against what we hypothesized. We believed, as past

research had found, that individuals with neuroticism would be more likely to share their feelings

online. Past research has found that those with neuroticism are likely to seek support online

rather than in person and seek validation for their feelings in order to feel support from their

friends. However, we did not ask questions about the reasons that the individuals in this study

went on social media. Much of the past research has focused on how those with neuroticism use

social media to keep up to date on information and other things going on around them when they

would be unable to ask people in person. Our data does not support things found in the past, but

there could be many reasons for this. Concordia college students, while not unlike most other

college students, could show different trends of reasoning for using social media which we did

not decide to ask about. And certain types of people would be more likely to fill out a survey

than other types.

Moving onto the data about friendship acceptance. There was a difference between the

percentage of close family versus distant family. And there was a small difference between

acceptance of friend requests from strangers. While we can’t determine if the difference is

significant as we didn’t ask any more questions about the friendships, it may hint at people with

more neurotic behavior not feeling as close to people or not wanting presume closeness. Of

course, this cannot be proven with this data. The difference between stranger request acceptance

is relatively small so not significant but does show a small difference, which is not as we had

suspected. We had hypothesized that those with neuroticism would be less open to accepting

friend requests than those without neuroticism.

With this data, we would suggest further research in the reasons for using social media. While a

lot of people use social media platforms for keeping up to date with family that they do not live

close to or friends they move away from, there are many different reasons than this. We would

suggest more research in trying to determine if there’s a difference in how people with different

personality traits from the Big Five use social media and if we can use this to help with treatment

of mental illness or lessening of stigma. We would also suggest more focus on sharing

information with close family and friends rather than strangers and if there is a relationship

between different personality traits. Furthermore, we suggest more research on neuroticism in

general and its relation to social media usage. We didn’t find any significant data with our

sample, but by widening the sample to different colleges or age groups, it is possible to find

something that is not represented by this sample of individuals.


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Figure 1: SPSS correlation statistics between neuroticism scores and online disclosure scores.

Figure 2: Correlation graph of the neuroticism scores in relation to online disclosure scores.

Figure 3: SPSS correlation statistics between non-neuroticism and online disclosure scores.

Figure 4: Correlation graph of the non-neuroticism scores in relation to online disclosure scores.

Figures 5 & 6: Pie Graphs that show the percentage of friends that are close family, distant

family, etc for both the Neurotic group and Non-Neurotic group.

Survey Questions:

Disagree strongly, Disagree a little, Neither agree nor disagree, Agree a little, Agree strongly

1 2 3 4 5

I see Myself as Someone Who...

___ 1. Is talkative

___ 2. Is emotionally stable, not easily upset

___ 3. Has an assertive personality

___ 4. Is reserved

___ 5. Can be moody

___ 6. Is relaxed, handles stress well

___ 7. Is sometimes shy, inhibited

___ 8. Is full of energy

___ 9. Remains calm in tense situations

___ 10. Is outgoing, sociable

___ 11. Generates a lot of enthusiasm

___ 12. Gets nervous easily

___ 13. Worries a lot

___ 14. Tends to be quiet

___ 15. Spends a lot of time online

___ 16. Is likely to share personal thoughts and feelings publicly online

___ 17. Accepts friend requests from people I don’t know in real life

___ 18. Only accepts friend requests from close friends and family

___ 19. Is likely to share thoughts and feelings publicly online that you would not share in


___ 20. Enjoys hearing and seeing positive things about myself online

___21. Feels unsupported or alone after publicly posting personal feelings that does not receive

comments or acknowledgement

___ 22. Compares my life to other people online

___ 23. Feels uncomfortable when I feel someone is sharing too much online

___ 24. Would rather share my personal thoughts and feelings with a stranger then a friend

___ 25. Is more willing to share personal thoughts and feelings online under a username versus

my real name

___ 26. Would be more willing to share personal thoughts and feelings with someone on instant

message versus publicly online.

What is your gender:

___ M ___F ___Prefer not to answer

What is your age:


What social media platforms do you use?


How many hours a day do you spend on social media?


Approximately how many friends/followers do you have on social media?


Of these friends, what percentage of your total friends is in each category? (make sure it adds up

to 100%)

Close Family _____

Distant Family____

Close Friends ____

Acquaintances ____

Strangers ____