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Facebook makes you unhappy - study

Published time: August 15, 2013 13:26
Edited time: August 16, 2013 11:02
Reuters / Dado Ruvic

Reuters / Dado Ruvic

The more time you spend on Facebook, the unhappier you become. That’s the not-so-astounding finding of the first study measuring the social network’s impact on users’ psychological well-being.

And (surprise, surprise) the survey finds that interacting with people “directly” – you know, face-to-face, or over the phone – actually makes you happier.

A team of researchers from the University of Michigan studied 82 young adults who had smartphones with Facebook accounts. Scientists texted the participants five times per day for two weeks to examine how Facebook use influences how people feel moment-to-moment, and how satisfied they are with their lives.  

Each text message contained a link to an online survey with five questions: “How do you feel right now?”; “How worried are you right now?”; “How lonely do you feel right now?”; “How much have you used Facebook since the last time we asked?”; and “How much have you interacted with other people ‘directly’ since the last time we asked?”

The authors of the study, published in the scientific journal PLOS, said they used experience-sampling, the most reliable method for measuring in-vivo behavior and psychological experience.

It turned out that the more people used Facebook, the worse they felt the next time researchers texted them. And the more people used Facebook over the two weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.

Meanwhile, interacting with other people “directly,” via phone or face-to-face, did not produce these negative outcomes, the researchers found. In fact, the scientists came to the conclusion that direct interactions with other people actually led people to feel better over time.

"On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection,” the lead author of the study, University of Michigan social psychologist Ethan Kross said. "Rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use produces the opposite result – it undermines it," he added.

Over 1 billion people use Facebook, and over half of them log in daily. No research has examined how interacting with Facebook influences subjective well-being over time.  

The researchers found no evidence for two possible alternative interpretations for their findings. Young and active Facebook users were not more likely to use Facebook when they felt bad. In addition, although people were more likely to use Facebook when they were lonely, "it was not the case that Facebook use served as a proxy for feeling bad or lonely," Kross said.

"We concentrated on young adults in this study because they represent a core Facebook user demographic," the authors said. "However, examining whether these findings generalize to additional age groups is important. Future research should also examine whether these findings generalize to other online social networks."

The study came a week after British researchers published a report concluding that sharing photographs on Facebook is the “safest” way to lose friends and damage relationships with friends and colleagues who don't "relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves."

"This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, do not seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves,"
Dr David Houghton, of the University of Birmingham, said.

"It is worth remembering the information we post to our 'friends' on Facebook, actually gets viewed by lots of different categories of people, partners, friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances and each group seems to take a different view of the information shared,"
he added.