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Research looks at the emotional impact of spending time on Facebook

Published: April 7, 2015 | Last Updated: April 7, 2015 By | 4 Replies Continue Reading
Caution: If you are already depressed, spending too much time on Facebook can make you feel worse.

Facebook can be a great way to connect and stay in contact with friends but on social media, it’s natural to start drawing comparisons between yourself and your “friends.”

New research suggests that if you tend towards depression, spending too much time comparing yourself to others on Facebook can have adverse consequences.

Specifically, two recent studies conducted at the University of Houston examined how comparing oneself to Facebook friends might impact emotional health. Both studies found that when users spent too much time doing that, they wound up feeling more depressed.

In a press release, researcher Mai-Ly Steers says: “It doesn’t mean Facebook causes depression, but that depressed feelings and lots of time on Facebook and comparing oneself to others tend to go hand in hand.”

“One danger is that Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare,” he says.

Steers continues:

“You can’t really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post. In addition, most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad.  If we’re comparing ourselves to our friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives.”

The study, entitled, Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. A prior post on The Friendship Blog described another research study that reached similar conclusions.

Do you ever find yourself getting depressed reading your friends’ Facebook posts?

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Comments (4)

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  1. Serenity says:

    I can’t agree more with this article and I am talking from experience: when I got into a bad time in my life, Facebook was the worst thing to spend time with and, at the same time, the best place to find something that would make me feel worse about myself. I was jobless, friendless and “loveless” (that silly situation where you think nobody loves you, absurd I know), it is so easy to see your friends’ vacations, great jobs and great relationships that when you feel you have nothing interesting to post then you have nothing to live for, kind of.

    After a while, when good things “started” happening to me and I didn’t feel like posting them I realised that my idea of “if it is not on Facebook, it didn’t happen” is FALSE. not just the good things that are on Facebook are the whole life of a person and a lot of people (even on Facebook) choose not to share those great things that happen to them. I stopped comparing myself to the pretty girl that has the perfect job, boyfriend, friends, weekend, summer… I just enjoy her posts, I send good vibes for the great things in her life and I take the things that can make me happier and can help me make the people around me happier too.

    I learnt to have a healthy relationship with Facebook and that means not letting any jealousy arise and spend not more than two or three times a week taking a look, always as an entertainment and not as a standard of what life should be according to someone.

  2. Anna G says:

    I agree with the findings in this article — but not for the same reasons. Facebook creates a public opportunity for “friends” to stage manage the details of their lives, and to brag or boast 24 hours a day. It presents a different reality from their actual lives. Thanks to social media, we’ve come to accept rude, arrogant, and other unattractive behaviors from people that we wouldn’t tolerate in real life. Lately I have a lot more respect for a couple of my best friends who aren’t on Facebook. I have to contact them personally for their news, and there is a great deal of comfort and sincerity in that.

    • PollyPau says:

      I absolutely agree with you on this. In the long run, I don’t think FB helps building up friendship and human relations, but rather makes them cheap, casual and unimportant. People who I thought were good friends in real life behaved like boastful, ego-centric teenagers on FB. Constant bragging about how great your life, kids, family, friends are is extremely tiring, both for the originators and their target audience. I don’t think friendship is about showing off and having a fan club behind you cheering you on. Friendship is about companionship, understanding, empathy, sharing, listening and connecting to other human beings. On the surface it might appear that FB offers all that, but in reality, it does very little to the real thing. I left FB a couple of years ago, and I’m much happier in the small group of friends I have. I’d rather have that any time than a hundred followers.

      • Anna G says:

        Polly: You hit the nail on the head. I’m slowly cutting back my FB use to once or twice a week, with fewer postings. I use it for “Happy Birthday” wishes, or to share professional news when appropriate, but I am no longer posting the daily doings in my life. Last month I posted something that I thought was interesting — a link to a piece of writing that I felt was thought-provoking — and it brought out so many cruel, mean-spirited and “unsocial” comments that I later deleted the post and took a week-long break from Facebook. I felt so much better after not using FB that I hated to return!

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