Science Explains Why You Keep Getting Unfriended On Facebook

Science Explains Why You Keep Getting Unfriended On Facebook

Most people get flushed for the vitriol in their post, but there’s an equally serious crime as vitriol that will also get you unfriended on Facebook in a hurry.

It’s not your oversharing of baby pictures, or the hundreds of photos of you being loved up, or even the incessant “inspirational” quotes you post that will get you unfriended on Facebook in a hurry.

It’s your political views (or at least, publicly voicing your political opinions) that will make you unpopular on the social networking site pretty quickly.

It seems voicing your opinions on politics isn’t just bad etiquette at the Christmas dinner table, it’s also very much frowned upon on Facebook. This could be the reason why you keep getting unfriended.


A New Yorker who asked to remain anonymous, for example, revealed that he purged his Facebook account after the last presidential election.

“It was a big deal to me,” he said. “I found it hard to be friends with people who didn’t vote for Obama.”

After which his friend posted, “I voted for McKinney.”

Airing your political views publicly will get you unfriended

According to researchers Nicholas John from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Shira Dvir-Gvirsman from Tel Aviv University, being unfriended for airing your political views publicly is not uncommon, especially when that happens in times of strife or conflict.


The researchers conducted an online survey among Jewish Israeli Facebook users between 3rd and 7th September 2014 (just 10 days after the Israel-Gaza conflict’s open-ended ceasefire of 26 August) to investigate the affects of political commenting. They found that while people are willing to be open-minded, those with starkly different views to our own are most likely to be blocked or deleted until at least after the conflict ends.

Social media users representing the Israeli population on Facebook were specifically asked about their political activity, ideological extremity and Facebook activity during the conflict. More than 1,100 Facebook users’ responded. The researchers found that 50% of the respondents reported being more active on Facebook during this time period and 16% of users unfriended or unfollowed a Facebook friend for political reasons during this time frame.

Interestingly, users who unfriended others were the ones more likely to be ideologically extreme and less supportive of free speech. The researchers also found that those with more Facebook friends were more likely to unfriend, indicating that having many weak ties allows for more unfriending.

“People unfriend people who have different political views to theirs,” John said in a statement explaining the findings. “More than that,” he continued, “these findings suggest that the people most likely to unfriend are younger, more politically active, more active on Facebook, have lots of Facebook friends, and have more extreme political views — these are important people in online discussions.”


Other reasons you’ll be unfriended

Two other studies led by Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student from the University of Colorado Denver corroborate the Israeli study that was published in the Journal of Communication.

The University of Colorado studies, which drew on a Twitter survey of 1,077 adults, investigated the psychology behind unfriending, as well as the emotional response of the unfriended. Study one found that acquaintances from high school are most likely to get the chop followed by friends of friends, work friends, and common interest friends.

Speaking about his study findings in a press release, Sibona said that we often wish to sever online contact with people who disagree with us about religion or politics. Since we’re most likely to diverge radically in perspective from those we knew in childhood, they get purged first, he said.

Moreover, real life shenanigans put work friends uniquely at risk and may cause you to be unfriended. “We found that people often unfriend co-workers for their actions in the real world rather than anything they post on Facebook,” said Sibona.


Study two examined the emotional fallout from being unfriended and came up with four resultant feelings: Surprised, bothered, amused and sad. A number of factors determine how unhappy or sad an Unfriended friend is likely to become in the aftermath of her demotion.

If you two once shared a close bond, she’ll probably be upset. If she monitors her Facebook friend list closely, that also enhances the likelihood she’ll suffer. A mitigating factor, however, is that if the unfriended seeks comfort from her remaining friends afterward, the study suggests she’ll feel better.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]


Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.


In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]



Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.


Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.


In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.


With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via


[1] US National Library of Medicine: Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain
[2] Daily Mail: Nursing a broken heart? How taking a paracetamol could dull the pain of rejection
[3] Mother For Life: Oxytocin’s Role
[4] Psychology Today: Facebook and Your Brain
[5] Alex Korb: The Upward Spiral

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