Here’s Something You May Not ‘Like,’ Frequent Facebook Use Makes Us Less Happy
August 15, 2013

Here’s Something You May Not ‘Like,’ Frequent Facebook Use Makes Us Less Happy

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

In a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, Facebook users' moods fell the more they turned to the popular networking site despite the size of their network, how empathetic they thought their friends were, or why they went there.

"On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection," said study author Ethan Kross, a University of Michigan social psychologist. “But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it."

"This is a result of critical importance because it goes to the very heart of the influence that social networks may have on people's lives," said co-author John Jonides, a U-M cognitive neuroscientist.

The study is the latest in a growing body of work looking at social media's impact on psychological well-being. Results of this research have been mixed, with some studies indicating that Facebook users have modestly increased life satisfaction, social trust and civic engagement. However, other studies have indicated that Facebook can evoke feelings of envy and a lowered self-image.

The new study from University of Michigan study followed 82 college-aged volunteers over time, giving participants questionnaires five times a day over text message for 14 days on their well-being and Facebook use. The study team also asked volunteers to score their level of life satisfaction at the beginning and conclusion of the study.

The researchers found that the more people used the social network during one time period, the worse they subsequently felt. They also discovered that the more volunteers used Facebook over the study’s two weeks, the more their self-reported life satisfaction levels declined.

“One of the things we don’t know is what aspect of Facebook use is contributing to these results,” Kross told the Los Angeles Times. “Facebook and online social networks more generally represent a very new way in which human beings are interacting, and we’re really just beginning to scratch the surface as to how exactly these interactions work and how they influence us.”

Catalina Toma, a University of Wisconsin communication researcher who found that the Michigan study contradicted her previous research on Facebook, said the differing results demonstrate the complex nature of the relatively new medium. She added that the contradictory studies point to a need for more comprehensive research.

"I think what's happening, honestly, is that Facebook is such a gigantic space where so many different activities take place," said Toma, who was not involved in the Michigan study. "So for us to be simply talking about Facebook use is an over-simplification. Facebook use is not just one thing; it is many, many different things."

Toma noted that Facebook allows people to hone their online persona, and the idealized personas of others could clash with a user’s own self-image.

"Instead of doing a person-to-person profile, you're comparing a profile and a person," Toma said.

Study researchers said they plan to continue research with participants from a variety of age groups to examine the scope of their latest study results and the psychological workings behind them.