Social networking websites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace are turning Britons into introverts, a new study warns.

By Murray Wardro

More than half of adults who use such sites admit that they spend more time chatting online than they do actually speaking to friends and family.

Researchers also found that users make fewer phone calls, send fewer texts and emails, watch less television and spend less time playing computer games because of their online habits.

Fifty-three per cent of the 1,600 people polled for the survey said that social networking sites had changed their lives.

The study by Mintel, the market research company, also discovered that social networking sites are more popular in Britain than anywhere else in the world.

Half of British internet surfers have signed up to at least one social networking site, compared to 27 per cent in France, 33 per cent in Japan, and 40 per cent in the US.

A Mintel spokesman said: "Britain has undoubtedly become a nation of Facebook addicts."

The firm believes that the recession is likely to boost the popularity of social networking sites, as cash-strapped Britons turn to them to keep in touch with friends and relatives rather than spend money on phone calls or texts.

The report found that one in five people who use the sites are "constantly checking" for new messages and updates.

One in 10 admitted that they had added a person as a "friend" on a site, without ever knowing them in real life.