Thursday, August 15, 2013

Facebook makes you sad

facebook Or does it?

One thing that is beyond dispute is that facebook users are sad losers. But does using facebook make you sad or do sad people use facebook? The best evidence on this so far comes from a new paper in PLOS ONE:

Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. (2013) PLoS ONE 8(8): e69841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069841
Over 500 million people interact daily with Facebook. Yet, whether Facebook use influences subjective well-being over time is unknown. We addressed this issue using experience-sampling, the most reliable method for measuring in-vivo behavior and psychological experience. We text-messaged people five times per day for two-weeks to examine how Facebook use influences the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives. Our results indicate that Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time. Interacting with other people “directly” did not predict these negative outcomes. They were also not moderated by the size of people's Facebook networks, their perceived supportiveness, motivation for using Facebook, gender, loneliness, self-esteem, or depression. On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.

Not only did Facebook use predict a drop in happiness - people tended to be sadder by the end of every visit to the Facebook site - it also predicted a drop in people’s satisfaction with life slightly over the course of the study. That prediction held up even after controlling for differences in the frequency of real-world contact, the size of people’s Facebook networks, degree of loneliness, and self-esteem (ScienceShot).
I don't feel that the findings of this study are relevant only to facebook, I suspect they are also strongly relevant to other social networks such as twitter where users tend to share personal information and engage in online exchanges.

Of course, there are flaws in this study, with only examined 82 mid-western Americans. Most worryingly, all the participants were volunteers responding to posters asking about facebook use, so the sampling protocol is not very comprehensive.

So does facebook make you sad? We still don't know for sure.

Nice writeup (as ever) from NHS Choices here.

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