A study from the University of Michigan confirms what we’ve all suspected – using Facebook actually makes us more depressed and less satisfied with our own lives.
The results looked at subjective well-being, the perception of one’s own happiness and quality of life. In order to measure this, researchers engaged 82 Facebook users over a period of two weeks using text messages. Participants were asked five times each day about their level of happiness, anxiety, loneliness and their general emotional state.
Social, extroverts – those who are extremely social in real life also displayed the most pronounced shift in mood changes. It’s possible that social individuals experience more stimulus when engaging in social behaviors, and therefore, were more affected by the mood changes than real life introverts.
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.
It’s also possible that Facebook use does not lead to a decline in emotional well-being, but that users were more likely to engage and use social networks when feeling sad, which makes the use of social networks a good predictor of ” significant declines in well-being when controlling for loneliness.” Likewise, ” would engaging in any solitary activity similarly predict declines in well-being?”
This viral video suddenly feels relevant.
Facebook’s own research attempted to manipulated user emotional states, and its ethically questionable testing revealed:
When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were re-duced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate thatemotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our ownemotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scalecontagion via social networks. This work also suggests that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, in-person interaction and non-verbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others’ positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people.
If social contagion is indeed possible, and users were more likely to use Facebook when feeling sad or alone, charting individual use and finding sudden surges in use could possibly indicate a rise in depression. But Facebook is no substitute for a real psychologist, so it’s unethical to actually try and manipulate users emotional states, even for good.