Not answering messages from one day to the next, without any explanation, has become an annoying habit that more and more people are facing in their relationships. For the first time, research has explored the causes and psychological effects of the behavior known as “ghosting” on the people who do it.
Cutting off communication in an abrupt manner with a friend or a romantic interest has unfortunately become a commonplace occurrence in our society and has even been given a name: ghosting. While other studies have explored the mental health consequences of ghosting on the victims, this new study from the University of Vienna examines the mental health of the “ghoster.”
The results, published in the journal Telematics & Informatics, show that ghosting has different effects depending on whether it occurs within friendships or romantic relationships.
The researchers conducted two rounds of surveys, four months apart, among young adults aged 16 to 21. In the first round, 978 people were surveyed, while 415 were surveyed in the second phase.
Respondents were asked how often they had ghosted friends or romantic partners but were not explicitly asked about the practice using the term “ghosting.” Instead, the researchers referred to behaviors such as cutting off contact online without saying why.
In a press release, Michaela Forrai, the lead researcher and author of the study, explains, “The fact that the term ‘ghosting’ is often understood in different ways was a major starting point for this project: in our study, we do not only consider it ghosting when contact is cut off for good, but also when communication from one side comes to a halt for an unexpectedly long period of time–what is crucial is that this happens without explanation.”
The research found that the psychological causes and effects of ghosting vary between friendships and romantic relationships. For example, excessive communication (i.e., a flood of messages) leads to ghosting in a romantic relationship but not in a friendly one.
The authors of the study explain this by the fact that interactions in romantic relationships are more demanding and time-consuming than friendships. By ghosting their partner, the ghosters are acting to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
The study also provides insight into the possible consequences of ghosting on ghosters’ well-being over time. However, the researchers found that there was no relationship between self-esteem and the decision to ghost the other.
Their findings support the fact that ghosting is socially entrenched and has become normalized in our interactions. Nevertheless, this practice may still have negative consequences for ghosters: respondents who reported ghosting their friends also showed an increase in depressive feelings over the second study period.
In 2018, a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that of more than 1,300 people surveyed, 20% had been ghosted and 25% had ghosted someone.