So long are the days of slipping out the back door of a party to avoid confrontation with a date gone bad. Through social media, one can easily “ghost”— that is, cut off all communication without giving a reason.
In a new qualitative study titled “Disappearing in the Age of Hypervisibility: Definition, Context, and Perceived Psychological Consequences of Social Media Ghosting,” lead researcher Royette Dubar, assistant professor of psychology, and her former master’s student Jhanelle Oneika Thomas ’18, MA ’19 investigated both the motives and psychological consequences of the act of ghosting.
Dubar and Thomas discovered that this modern-age disappearing act has both negative consequences for the ghostee (i.e. the person being ghosted), and the ghoster (i.e. the person committing the act).
The study, which appears in the June 2021 issue of the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Popular Media, is based on a sample of 76 college students who participated in a focus group session.
Ghosting has an overwhelmingly negative effect on the person being ghosted and can have both short-term and long-term consequences. In the short-term, ghosting may lead to internalized feelings of self-criticism and self-doubt, Dubar explained. Over time, these feelings may hinder the development of trust and vulnerability in future relationships, “which are key ingredients for developing intimacy.”
“Because ghosting does not provide any closure to the ghostee, it robs the individual of an opportunity to address any personal issues that may actually promote growth within that individual,” she said.
A 19-year-old female participant in the study described her own experience of being ghosted: “It becomes a lot of self-doubt at first. I think a lot of personal insecurity comes out when you get ghosted because you begin to question because you don’t have answers. So you question yourself, you question what you know about yourself and you blame yourself. You say that it’s because ‘I’m not pretty enough,” or ‘I’m not smart enough,’ or ‘I said the wrong thing,’ or ‘I did the wrong thing,’ or whatever. And at least for me, that’s really harmful and can really affect my mood for a long period of time.”