BY ALEX TAREMWA
There’s no question that Facebook is popular given its 1.23 billion active users in countries around the world. With status updates, chatrooms, personal messaging, and online games, Facebook seems to be a perfect social tool for staying in contact with friends and family members without ever needing to leave the house. So why do so many Facebook users report feeling depressed and lonely?
According to University of Houston (UH) researcher Mai-Ly Steers, this kind of social comparison paired with the amount of time spent on Facebook may be linked to depressive symptoms. Steers’ research on the topic is presented in the article, “Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms” published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology published in December.
“Although social comparison processes have been examined at length in traditional contexts, the literature is only beginning to explore social comparisons in online social networking settings,” said Steers, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at UH.
Steers conducted two studies to investigate how social comparison to peers on Facebook might impact users’ psychological health. Both studies provide evidence that Facebook users felt depressed when comparing themselves to others.
“It doesn’t mean Facebook causes depression, but that depressed feelings and lots of time on Facebook and comparing oneself to others tend to go hand in hand,” said Steers.
The second part of the study went a little deeper. Previous, face-to-face research on social comparison had found that upward social comparisons (e.g., looking at someone more popular or attractive than yourself) tend to make people feel worse, whereas downward comparisons (comparing yourself to someone with lower grades than you) tend to make people feel better about themselves.
The second part of the new study tried to tap into this difference, asking people exactly how they felt when they viewed other people’s posts (e.g.“Today, when I was on Facebook, I felt less confident about what I have achieved compared to other people.”).
“A large body of research shows that Internet addiction often co-occurs with other disorders, such as depression, loneliness, sexual dysfunction, or other addictions,” the study team writes. “The main aim of our study was to answer the question of whether depression and daily Internet use time was related to Facebook intrusion.”
They define Facebook intrusion as “excessive involvement in Facebook, disrupting day-to-day activities and interpersonal relationships.”
Steers and her colleagues enrolled 672 native Polish-speaking participants between the ages of 15 and 75. The average age of the participants was about 28, and almost two-thirds were women.
Each participant answered two questionnaires. One was designed to measure levels of Facebook intrusion, and the other to detect depression.
The study team found that the amount of time spent on the internet daily and Facebook intrusion was linked with higher depression scores.