Think you use Facebook to stay close to your friends? Think again. A new study says the need to be entertained may be the biggest driver of activity on the social network.

The desire to be entertained predicts the amount of time users spend on Facebook, according to an academic study published this month in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. The study also suggests that the reasons for using Facebook change over time: You sign up for interpersonal communications, but you end up staying for the boredom-busting factors.

The study by the University of Connecticut’s Daniel Hunt and Archana Krishnan and Michigan State’s David Atkin adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that personality is one of the biggest factors in how an individual uses social networks, as well as how engaged they are. Future research could also shed light on how marketers and social networks can tailor their offers to increase engagement and target the people most likely to share messages with their online friends.

Reasons for Using Facebook Change Over Time

Researchers have long known that five broad categories drive online activity: information seeking, interpersonal communication, self-expression, passing time and entertainment. In the study led by Hunt, the goal was to see if the same measures drove people to spend time on Facebook. The study confirmed that, with the exception of information seeking, all of the other behavioral factors that drive online activity hold true for Facebook, with entertainment and time passing being two of the biggest drivers of Facebook activity.

“The entertainment motive was shown to be the most powerful predictor of how much time participants spent on Facebook,” the researchers wrote. “If individuals are using Facebook for entertainment purposes, this differs from cases where it’s being used to maintain relationships. For example, individuals may use Facebook in a similar fashion to a blog or to promote their viewpoints.”

In other words, many of us say we use Facebook to stay connected with friends, but many of us are actually logging on to view videos, look at photos and - perhaps most significantly for a public company looking to solidify its revenue model - play games. 

It’s Not All Fun and Games: Self-Expression Counts

Self-expression has long been known to drive online activity, and the most recent study confirms what most suspected: People, and particularly young adults, use Facebook as a form of self-expression. Previous research has come to similar conclusions, but the Hunt study adds to that body while suggesting further research into how self-expression is related to Facebook use.

“People post ‘status updates’ to the news feed of Facebook for many different reasons,” the researchers wrote. “Although it is beyond the scope of the current study, the self-expression motive does offer some explanation why people might post their feelings, their opinion or an image to their socially networked friends.”