Stalking your exes on Facebook is bad for your mental health

Why you stalk your exes on Facebook

It's harder than ever in 2015 to go through a tough breakup. For some reason, there's a compulsion to stalk your ex on social media - a compulsion which has now been comprehensively analysed by psychologists.

Jesse Fox and Robert Tokunaga surveyed 431 university students (150 male, 281 female) who'd experienced a breakup in the past year where both of the former partners were on Facebook. They were asked a series of questions about attachment, investment, commitment, distress, and post-breakup stalking on social media.

The results, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, showed that the more distressing the breakup, the more post-breakup stalking (or "interpersonal electronic surveillance", as the researchers call it) took place - particularly for those who didn't initiate the breakup. It also had a knock-on effect in terms of monitoring of current partners.

Prolonged Emotional Distress

"Social network sites can serve as virtual scrapbooks for relationships, as they serve as an anthology of past posts, interactions, and photos shared on the site," the researchers wrote. "Viewing one's own content may promote reflection or rumination about the breakup, which is associated with prolonged emotional distress, particularly for anxiously attached individuals."

They added: "Another possibility is that users spend time investigating the ex-partner's new romantic interest and engaging in social comparison, which may lead to negative affect. Given their affordances, social media are discussed as potentially unhealthy enablers for online surveillance after relationship termination."

So next time you're going through a nasty breakup, stay off Facebook, yeah?

Duncan Geere
Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.