The use of Facebook has skyrocketed in the past decade. It has occurred so quickly, in fact, that researchers are still trying to understand the allure of Facebook. Why are we interested in being bombarded with banal information from other peoples’ lives on a daily basis? What benefit do we get from having more Facebook friends than social psychologists believe we can realistically maintain relationships with? Since social connections are generally thought to promote health, can the same be said of Facebook connections?
A study recently published in PLOS ONE suggests the answer to the last question might be “no.” The researchers asked 82 participants to answer a set of questionnaires to assess depression, self-esteem, and perceptions of Facebook use. They were then sent 5 text messages a day over the next 2 weeks and asked a series of questions that collected information on present-moment positive and negative feelings, loneliness, and Facebook use since the last text message. Finally, the participants completed another set of questionnaires and the number of Facebook friends they had was recorded.
The results indicated that the more people used Facebook over the 14-day period, the worse they felt and the lower their levels of overall life satisfaction. The researchers also investigated whether negative feelings preceded Facebook use (i.e. people who felt negatively were more likely to use Facebook), and found that they did not. Thus, it seems like there was something about Facebook use itself that may have been precipitating negative feelings in these users.
The authors suggest that these feelings were not caused simply by social isolation or internet use in general. Could it be that being exposed to all of the “bragging” that goes on on Facebook makes people feel worse about their lives? After all, most people take to Facebook to post about their families, their vacations, or their accomplishments. They don’t as frequently use status updates to discuss the tension between them and their spouse, their anxiety about losing their job, or their disillusionment. Maybe Facebook makes us feel worse because it causes us to think everyone else is living a grand life, while we’re suffering with anxiety, pain, and turmoil. These are issues for future research to explore; it will be interesting to see what we eventually come to learn about the unique relationship people have with these semi-virtual social networks.
Ethan Kross mail,, Philippe Verduyn,, Emre Demiralp,, Jiyoung Park,, David Seungjae Lee,, Natalie Lin,, Holly Shablack,, John Jonides,, & Oscar Ybarra (2013). Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults plos one DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069841