Two-Faced Facebook: We Like It, but It Doesn’t Make Us Happy

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The more we use Facebook, the worse we feel.

That’s what social psychologists at the University of Michigan report after tracking how 82 young adults used their Facebook accounts over a two-week period. When the participants started the study, they rated how satisfied they were with their lives. During the following two weeks, the researchers texted them at two-hour intervals five times a day to ask about how they felt about themselves, as well as how much time they had spent on Facebook since the last time they were texted. The more time people spent on Facebook during a single two-hour period, the worse they reported feeling.

(MORE: Why Facebook Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself)

The same correlation emerged when the researchers compared the individuals’ average use over two weeks with how satisfied they felt with their lives.

“My hunch is that there are likely a variety of factors that may be driving this effect,” says lead study author Ethan Kross, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, who published his results in the journal PLOS One. “Maybe when you’re looking at Facebook you’re engaging in a lot of social comparisons. Maybe when you’re on Facebook you’re not engaging in other kinds of activities that may be good for you, like getting outside, exercising and interacting with people in daily life.”

While it might seem that engaging with a social network, albeit in a digital way, would make people feel more supported and important to others, social media can have an isolating effect. Earlier research from the Institute of Information Systems at Berlin’s Humboldt University, for example, also found that Facebook was making people feel bad about themselves. Based on the responses from the participants, the scientists speculated that the Facebook users were comparing themselves with their peers, and many were feeling inferior as a result. Users also reported frustration and a “lack of attention” from having fewer comments, likes and feedback compared with their Facebook friends.

(MORE: When Good Pictures Happen to Bad People: Why We Hate That We Like the Rolling Stone Cover)

So why do so many people say they enjoy Facebook — and what about the well-done studies that find that Facebook actually increases a person’s self-esteem? That may have to do with the selected selves that people present in their profiles. Keith Wilcox of Columbia University and his team reported through five experiments, for example, that Facebook both lowers a person’s self-control and boosts self-esteem; people feel less inhibited about presenting the most positive version of themselves online, and receive positive and reinforcing feedback through interactions with friends. “Most people are presenting information about their actual selves on Facebook, but they are filtering it so they are only presenting the most positive information,” says Wilcox. “There are good benefits and bad benefits. Let’s face it, it makes you feel good about yourself, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But there is [also] a lot of boasting as a result.”

That boasting and self-esteem by some, however, can mean negative feelings for others. And the effects of those less positive outcomes are showing up in therapists’ offices. “It comes up in sessions all the time,” says Dr. Guy Winch, a New York psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid. “Patients feel really bad: they went online and liked their friends’ vacation photos, but their friend didn’t like theirs. In the throes of a nasty breakup, their ex wrote something really bad about them and blasted it all over. I hear this literally all the time. People have huge emotional experiences on social media, especially Facebook, and they bring it into sessions.”

(MORE: Why You’re More Likely to Remember a Facebook Status Than a Face)

According to therapists, however, Facebook’s effect on the human psyche doesn’t have to always be negative. While Winch acknowledges that social media may exacerbate loneliness among those with isolation issues, it could also have the ability to expand a person’s social circle and serve as a conduit for curing that loneliness — if used in the right way. Even Kross, author of the new study, acknowledges that Facebook can help people. “It is very possible that there are ways of interacting with Facebook and other social networks that may serve to optimize and enhance well-being. It’s one of our goals to figure out what those ways are,” he says.

One factor that can determine whether the site can add to a person’s sense of well-being or take from it, depends on whether that person is actually engaging with online contacts or simply scrolling and behaving as an inactive bystander.

“One thing I recommend to my patients all the time is, be active,” says Winch. “Reach out to people. I ask, How many Facebook friends do you have? How many are nearby? Why not reach out to them one by one and ask to meet for coffee? I think it is a great tool for dealing with things like loneliness and even relationships.” According to Winch, people don’t just present a positive version of themselves online, they tend to do it for their face-to-face relationships as well, since they try to live up to the profile they post online.

(MORE: Who Wields the Most Influence on Facebook?)

Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, agrees that active participation can be therapeutic. During the Twilight craze, she joined a Facebook forum for older women who loved the books and movies — just for research. “I had gone in kind of critical, and I was totally humbled by the good will of these women,” says Rutledge. “It allows people to connect with people who have shared interests. Especially those who are house-bound or have issues with social avoidance. There is a very large population of disabled people on Second Life. They are sharing with people who share their point of view.”

(MORE: Pediatricians Should Discuss ‘Facebook Depression’ With Kids)

Exactly how such interactions can heal will require more research, but Rutledge believes those studies will be worth conducting. With millions of people interacting via social media, teasing apart the varying ways that these relationships can influence people’s well-being — whether in the short term or long term — can better inform experts on how to advise people about when to turn to Facebook — and when to just say no.

35 comments
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Whatanotion
Whatanotion

Where were all these thoughtful commentors on the Zimmerman case?  These comments outclass the article  (which may have been deliberately set up that way) by a long shot.  The analysis of the sampling is quite impressive by the commentors here .   Compared to the hate orgy on the Yahoo Zimmerman blogs; this is an oasis of common sense. 

AnnieMouse
AnnieMouse

I got rid of my Facebook account a few months ago and haven't missed it a bit. Facebook thrives because people are self-absorbed and want to be validated as much as possible--but the validation you receive on Facebook is ultimately not satisfying. Let's be real; people don't REALLY care about your kids, your vacation, your new haircut, or how many miles you ran. True happiness isn't going to come from a social network like Facebook.  

Sapphire19a
Sapphire19a

I turned away from Fakebook, Oh, I meant Facebook, three months ago and have not looked back since. I won't be 'liking' it at any point in the future either. It has some really good aspects, but it also has a dark and dangerous side as I found out at great cost to my mental and emotional health. 

_MGrey_
_MGrey_

"During the following two weeks, the researchers texted them at two-hour intervals five times a day to ask about how they felt about themselves, as well as how much time they had spent on Facebook since the last time they were texted. "

I don't know.  I'd get pretty pissed if someone texted me every 2 hours asking me how I feel about myself..."I was asleep a*hole...now I'm awake - I'll go check my FB status...nothing better to do at 2 am..."

lrosen9999
lrosen9999

As a research psychologist I have a problem with this study and the way its conclusions have been played out through the media. First, the authors used only 82 college students and rest the bulk of their conclusions on answers to a single question: "How do you feel right now?" In a recent study published out of my lab we studied more than 1100 teens, young adults and adults examining whether specific uses of technology and media--including Facebook divided into three subscales--general use, impression management and friendships--predicted symptoms of 9 psychological disorders including major depression, dysthymia (milder depression), narcissism, compulsive personality disorder and bipolar-mania.  What we found, after factoring out many potential alternative explanations, was that while more use of Facebook and more Facebook friends did predict more symptoms of many disorders, it actually predicted, along with more time spent using the telephone for calls, FEWER symptoms of both dysthymia and major depression. I think that the use of a single question to determine mental health may be misleading if you see in our study how Facebook use provided both positive and negative predictors of various aspects of mental health.


I am happy to send a copy of this article, recently published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Shoot me an email and I will send that article.

Dr. Larry Rosen

LROSEN@CSUDH.EDU

DrLarryRosen.com

Author of "iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

LutzBarz
LutzBarz

AmeriKa worries me. what is it with ppl over there? everyone knows it's just digital exuberance. and my fb friends are real! and I don't care who what why when whatever about whatver they go on or not.

KãviŠàm
KãviŠàm

It says there's both bad & good. You cant complain about the article! but would like to comment on this :

  "Facebook was making people feel bad about themselves. Based on the responses from the participants, the scientists speculated that the Facebook users were comparing themselves with their peers, and many were feeling inferior as a result. Users also reported frustration and a “lack of attention” from having fewer comments, likes and feedback compared with their Facebook friends."

I think the above quote says abit of truth for some people around the world. Thats why i guess you get suicide as a result too. Usually its something like 'he/she said that! & all the comments are spreading, i cant face them now 'coz they bully me.'

Facebook is actually more like competition to some while others think its to socialize.  and for that some people i think its usualy the ones who are lonely and dont have much friends to connect and socialize with!


JenniferFrancesArmstrong
JenniferFrancesArmstrong

Perhaps people take too literally the idea that Facebook is for social networking.  I don't use it that way, so much as to keep myself informed and to spread my views.

HerbertJara
HerbertJara

This is so stupid.

82 from a millions of users, is like taking a glass of water from the ocean and say "look there is no fish in here, so it mean in the ocean there are no fish".


How about they took just 82 from a thousand of depressed people that there is on the internet?

If they repeat this experiment 5 times with 82 different people every time, they will get different result. So there is no conclusion rather that the "bad feel" when you see people having to much fun or eating delicious crap.


In conclusion this article and research is total crap. 

orbital303
orbital303

"The more we use Facebook, the worse we feel."

You have to retarded if you need a study to tell you this. 

cjwalker24
cjwalker24

"During the following two weeks, the researchers texted them at two-hour intervals five times a day to ask about how they felt about themselves, as well as how much time they had spent on Facebook since the last time they were texted"


This alone would make me the most unhappiest person on the planet.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

A two-week long, stand-alone study of 82 young adults is by no means representative of the general population.

Furthermore, the study only showed correlation, and not causation between Facebook usage and worsening of mood.

Without further research, introductory statements like, "The more we use Facebook, the worse we feel" are quite premature and inappropriate. 

TIME Magazine should know better than to jump to such unfounded conclusions.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

@CarolynnVarner 

NSA falls short of the evil stalking of Facebook.   Yet, Facebook has become more and more pervasive.  I can do without it.