While websites and social media can help create support communities and make these disorders more prominent, in some ways they can be even more difficult to research than individual clinic diagnoses. Research scientist Willem Beschteiger, a member of Zurich University’s Behavioural Science Unit, is drawing on his own experiences with the Internet in his research into food and food-related behaviour.
In the recent past Beschteiger has looked at how viewers and tweeters use different social networks to discuss food, usually on public bulletin boards. He says his research has also uncovered that such social networks are platforms for expressing or diverging from other social networks, depending on whether they are searching for a particular dietary identity or have a dietary agenda.
Beschteiger’s latest research in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience explores the perceived value that Facebook presents to people. He found that Facebook’s empathy algorithm might only show other people’s online posts in certain periods in their own day. If they saw a similar post in the middle of the day, they could interpret it differently than if they saw it in the early hours of the morning.
Beschteiger says people may also be more likely to value someone’s photos, which is considered positive, when they are friends with them on Facebook. They may just be more inclined to want to see more of the same things when they know their friends are doing so, or even perform similar activities or follow the same activities.
Visit the Max Planck Institute for Human Development website for more information on International Eating Disorders Awareness Week.