Ceasing all contact with a friend or leaving their messages unopened may be a way to avoid confrontation or a tough conversation, but ghosting may backfire. Those who cut contact with friends without explanation saw an increase in depressive feelings, according to a new study.
A 2019 study found that 25.3% of United States adults reported having been ghosted, while 21.3% said they had ghosted a dating partner.
While previous studies have mainly focused on ghosting within romantic relationships, the researchers at the University of Vienna also looked at the predictors and impact of ghosting friends.
A total of 978 participants aged 16 to 21 were enrolled in the study. They were asked about their ghosting experience within friendships and romantic relationships as well as their well-being twice with a four-month interval between surveys. About 400 respondents participated in both surveys.
The study defines ghosting as “a relationship dissolution strategy that is enacted on social media by ceasing to communicate with another person without an explanation” and not limited to romantic relationships.
High self-esteem as a predictor
The research published in Telematics and Informaticsdiscovered that communication overload is a significant predictor for ghosting in romantic relationships but not friendships. According to the study, interaction with romantic partners is often more demanding and time-consuming than with friends; therefore, ghosting can help avoid feeling overwhelmed by excessive messages.
While self-esteem does not appear to play a role in ghosting within romantic relationships, those with high self-esteem are more likely to ghost their friends. Because people tend to have more friendships than romantic relationships, ghosting can be used when deliberately choosing to end contact with friends. As self-esteem is associated with self-forgiveness, people with higher self-esteem are more likely to engage in ghosting despite potential harm to others.
Depressive tendencies do not make people ghost their friends or romantic partners. While individuals with mental health problems tend to withdraw, they also seek support from their friends and romantic partners, making ghosting others less likely.
Ghosters are also negatively affected
The study found that ghosting can have negative consequences for ghosters. In the first survey, those who reported having ghosted friends showed increased depressive feelings at the second measurement point. However, ghosting romantic partners did not appear to increase depressive feelings in ghosters.
“Based on our results, we would like to give an impulse for reflecting on one’s own ghosting behavior, especially within friendships — this could reduce negative consequences for oneself and also for potential ghostees”, says the study’s co-author Michaela Forrai, a university assistant in the Department of Communication of the University of Vienna.
Contrary to what the researchers expected, engagement in either form of ghosting did not have a long-term effect on self-esteem. The study suggests that the impact of ghosting others may be a double-edged sword: those who successfully pursue new partners after ghosting previous ones may see an increase in their self-esteem, whereas failure to do so may have a detrimental effect. Moreover, successes and failures may cancel each other out.
The researchers note that because they used a not fully representative German sample of people aged 16 to 21 years old, the findings may not be generalizable to young people beyond that age range around the world.