For all of the talk of it being a social network, Facebook can be a lonely and depressing place. Despite this, many people use the site as somewhere to ‘lurk’, something which research shows can be psychologically harmful.
A study by the University of Copenhagen found that emotions become more positive and life-satisfaction increased in a group of people who took a break from the site. The effects were more pronounced in heavy users of Facebook, in those who suffered from envy, and those who failed to interact with other users. The advice for some people is that they might want to “consider quitting Facebook for good”.
The author of the study, Morten Tromholt, says: “If one is a heavy Facebook user, one should use Facebook less to increase one’s wellbeing. And if one tends to feel envy when on Facebook, one should avoid browsing the sections (or specific friends) on Facebook causing this envy. And if one uses Facebook passively, one should reduce this kind of behaviour. Due to habits, practicalities it may be difficult to change one’s way of using Facebook. If this is the case, one should consider quitting Facebook for good”.
Envy is likely to be a serious problem over Christmas as friends and family post pictures of their get-togethers and presents. If you are one of the ‘lurkers’ identified in the study, this could turn into a miserable time. The “unrealistic social comparisons” highlighted by the study are not a new idea, but the results confirmed what many people have long-believed.
Most people use Facebook on a daily basis; few are aware of the consequences. Based on a 1-week experiment with 1,095 participants in late 2015 in Denmark, this study provides causal evidence that Facebook use affects our well-being negatively. By comparing the treatment group (participants who took a break from Facebook) with the control group (participants who kept using Facebook), it was demonstrated that taking a break from Facebook has positive effects on the two dimensions of well-being: our life satisfaction increases and our emotions become more positive. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that these effects were significantly greater for heavy Facebook users, passive Facebook users, and users who tend to envy others on Facebook.
The study was published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
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