How Do People Decide to Accept a Facebook Friend Request?
Research reveals how most people choose their online friends.
Posted Jul 31, 2020
Is it Possible to Have Too Many Friends?
You can never have too many friends—unless you are on Facebook. With a 5,000 friend limit, people who are inundated with requests have to pick and choose. Most people do this anyway, following the well-known advice to choose your friends carefully. Anyone with a healthy respect for the dangers of social media will value quality over quantity, exercising discretion in selecting Facebook friends.
But because most Facebook friend requests do not come from people we know well (if at all), recipients have to make quick decisions. So whether due to caution or calculation, how do we decide whether to add others to our network? Research has some answers.
Putting Your Best Face Forward
On Facebook, as in person, first impressions matter. One of the first things people in deciding whether to accept your friend request is look at your profile—including your photo.
If you use an avatar, whether it is a superhero, your dog, or a popular slogan, viewers have less information to work with. Unless they immediately identify as a kindred spirit based on your expressed ideology or interests, many will quickly delete your request without reading more.
If you use a photo of yourself, you express authenticity (assuming it is somewhat recent), but also much more—and herein lies the challenge. How do you want to showcase yourself? An inappropriate photo, in terms of appearance, background, or expression, is enough to make someone decline or ignore your request regardless of how many mutual friends you have in common. This is important to remember if you want to use Facebook to build your network both personally and professionally.
But interestingly, recipients consider other things as well, some of which might surprise you.
Emily C. Koller et al. (2018) investigated how physical attractiveness interacts with political affiliation to impact the decision of whether or not to accept a Facebook friend request.[i] Their study participants included 120 undergraduate students who were randomly assigned to view one of six conditions depicting the Facebook profile of a white male. Manipulations included physical attractiveness of the Facebook profile picture, and political affiliation: Republican, Democrat, and Independent.
Koller et al. found that study participants viewing the physically attractive subject were significantly more likely to accept the Facebook friend request as compared to the unattractive candidate. Similar political affiliation did not significantly increase the likelihood of accepting a request.
Why does attractiveness matter? The authors explain that attractive people may be perceived as more competent, confident, and even mentally healthy than their less attractive counterparts. Consequently, participants might attribute such positive characteristics to an attractive sender, leading to a higher likelihood of accepting the friend request.
Politics Matter Less
The one finding Koller et al. described as unexpected, was that Independents were just as likely to accept friend requests sent by attractive and unattractive candidates, regardless of the sender’s political affiliation. This is contrary to the findings about the behavior of the Republican and Democrat participants, who were significantly more likely to accept friend requests from attractive candidates, although the sender’s political affiliation was also influential.
With respect to party affiliation, Democrats were more likely to accept friend requests from attractive senders who identified as either Democrat or Republican, but were less impacted by attractiveness when considering senders who identified as Independent. Republicans were more likely to accept requests from attractive senders who were also Republican, or Independent, but were less influenced by attractiveness when considering requests made from Democratic senders.
Conclusions and Caveats
Taken together, research indicates that when deciding to accept Facebook friend requests, people are likely to make quick decisions based on easily observable characteristics. Considering the volume of information available to Facebook friends, however, both personally and professionally, further analysis is warranted.
If social media is an important part of your life, it is equally important you safeguard the private information you share, which includes wise decision making about who you allow into your network. An appreciation of how easy it might be to accept requests from senders who look and sound too good to be true, but are not revealing the person behind the persona, should prompt a healthy reminder to trust but verify.
[i] Koller, Emily C., Abigail L. Swanda, Jamie N. Noonan, and Miranda T. Sisneroz. 2018. “The Effects of Physical Attractiveness and Political Affiliation on Facebook Friend Acceptance.” Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research 23 (4): 274–81. doi:10.24839/2325-7342.JN23.4.274.