Preference of Online Friends Over Face-To-Face Friends: Effect of Interpersonal Fears on Online Relationship Building Preference


  • Reza Shabahang Orcid
  • Mara S. Aruguete Orcid
  • Hyejin Shim Orcid
  • Benyamin Mokhtari Chirani Orcid


The emergence of online social networking has increased development of exclusively online friendships. Individuals in online environments are willing to invest considerable time and effort to develop and maintain relationships as they would in other gathering spaces. In some cases, individuals find it preferable to make friends via the internet over more traditional means of relationship formation. The current study examines preference for online friends over face-to-face friends. Initially, we developed a brief, one-dimensional, 11-item questionnaire assessing online friendship preference based on semi-structured interviews. Confirmatory factor analysis showed support for a one-factor model. Internal consistency was established using inter-item correlation, corrected item-total correlation, and Cronbach’s α. Subsequently, we examined the psychological determinants and consequences of preference for online friendship formation. Participants who reported higher fear of intimacy and perceived relationship vulnerability reported greater preference for online friends over face-to-face friends. Preference for online friendship was related to increased risk of problematic internet use. The findings suggest that interpersonal fears, combined with attributes of online communication (e.g., reduced social cues and more personal control) motivate some individuals to prefer online intimacies over face-to-face friendships, thereby increasing time spent online.