Finally, those who have long resisted the Facebook phenomena can either enjoy a sigh of relief or a smug sense of supremacy over their social-media-obsessed peers: new research recently published in the Public Library of Science suggests that the frequency at which someone logs into Facebook is directly related to how unsatisfied he is with life. Conducted by Dr. Ethan Kross and Dr. Philippe Verduyn of Michigan and Leuven Universities, respectively, the study appears to authenticate claims that time spent on Facebook can harm a person’s self-esteem and emotional welfare.
Unsurprisingly, previous studies involving the social platform revealed that using Facebook was linked to a greater sense of jealousy, stress, loneliness and general depression. While these studies provided interesting glimpses into how Facebook affects our corporate psychology, they seem to confuse correlation and causation, neglecting to investigate whether Facebook use is a result of these qualities, and not the other way around. The new study would be the first of its kind to record users’ behavior and emotions over a protracted period of time, determining the cause/effect relationship between Facebook and user psychology.
82 active Facebook users – ranging from late teens to early 20s – volunteered to allow researchers to observe their social media activity for 14 days. Over the two-week period, each user would be required to report their state of mind and direct social contacts (any phone calls or in-person meetings with acquaintances) five times per day. Text message alerts were deployed throughout the day to remind volunteers to complete a short questionnaire designed to interpret each user’s state of mind and social activity for the most recent period.
Upon analysis of the finalized data, Dr. Kross and Dr Philippe found that the more frequently a participant used his or her Facebook in a single period, the more negative his or her responses were for the next questionnaire. Additionally, the questionnaires required participants to rate their overall satisfaction with life at the beginning of the study, and after it was completed. The volunteers who recorded the greatest Facebook useage during the study demonstrated larger declines in general satisfaction than did those who logged in less frequently. On the other hand, researchers found a positive correlation between how much in-person social contact a single participant had, and how satisfied he was by the end of the study; the more physical social interaction that participants had in their daily routines, the better they reported feeling about their lives upon filling out subsequent questionnaires.
Dr. Verduyn and Dr. Kross ultimately concluded that rather than improving a user’s well-being, Facebook only has the ability to decrease the user’s satisfaction with life. In fact, earlier this year, another Facebook study, conducted at German Universities Humboldt and Darmstadt, revealed that the most common emotive response tied to Facebook use is envy. Similarly, the study found that users predominantly felt negativity after using Facebook. The research mentioned that “Respondents were reluctant to admit feeling envious on Facebook”, and continued with the following:
“Access to copious positive news and the profiles of seemingly successful ‘friends’ fosters social comparison that can readily provoke envy.”
The study finishes by saying that constant envious feelings will eventually have an adverse effect on the person’s general satisfaction with life.
However, the studies don’t supply a definitive answer on whether Facebook affects all users the same way. Both samples consisted of participants within the same age range, so it’s difficult to tell whether envy or dissatisfaction is something experienced by Facebook’s oldest and youngest users as well. It could be that recent high school and college grads – Facebook’s most active users – are browsing at a time when the success of their peers has the most potent effect on their own psychology. Further research would be needed to extend these findings to the younger and older population.