Not a Happy Facebook

With the enormous amount of people being on Facebook and the increasing role it plays in the peoples’ lives it’s not surprising that Facebook is becoming a focus for scientific research more and more often. I must admit I’m not too fond of Facebook, I mean it’s useful in some cases but it has become too important for some people and as far as I’m concerned- if it wouldn’t exist I would be as happy (plus there are too many people in my University library who take up computer space just to browse Facebook).

Facebook Logo

So during my daily paper-browsing session I came upon an article that studies the effects on Facebook on a person’s well-being.

The group from the University of Michigan looked at whether there is any relation between the number of times a person goes on Facebook (study had 82 participants and their mean age was 19.52 years) and his/her well-being. There were two types of well-being the study investigated: affective well-being (how a person feels) and cognitive well-being (how satisfied with his/her life a person is). The data was collected by sending questionnaires to the participants (5 times per day) and they had to answer the following questions on the scale from 0 to 100:
(1) How do you feel right now?
(2) How worried are you right now?
(3) How lonely do you feel right now?
(4) How much have you used Facebook since the last time we asked?
(5) How much have you interacted with other people “directly” since the last time we asked?
A number of different statistical methods were used to assess the effect Facebook has on the mood and also to determine whether any other variables are also important for explaining the results.

Here are the results

Changes in affective well-being:
The more a person uses Facebook the worse he/she feels.
The mood does not influence how often a person uses Facebook, meaning that even if a person feels unhappy he/she uses Facebook regardless.

Cognitive well-being (how satisfied with his/her life a person is)
Over the total 14-day trial people who used Facebook the most had the highest decline in their satisfaction with life.

Overall, the study model could predict the changes in person’s affective and cognate well-being depending on how often he/she used Facebook. The more often a person uses Facebook the higher decline in the well-being is seen. The number of “Friends on Facebook”, gender, self-esteem or motivation for the use of Facebook do not have any influence on the changes in person’s well-being.

Direct social interaction (described as face to face or over the phone interaction with other people) has no influence on cognate well-being but predicts a positive increase in affective well-being. If the effect of direct social interactions is removed the model still predicts decrease in affective well-being after using Facebook.

After reading the abstract of the paper I was a bit skeptic because maybe the people use Facebook in general when they have nothing else to do, sit at home, are bored. Then there might be a simple correlation between the use of Facebook and the bad mood and it would not mean that Facebook decreases the mood but just that “When I’m unhappy I go on Facebook”.
Well, it seem that the authors have controlled for this variable by including questions about things like boredom, loneliness etc. on the questionnaire they sent. They have subtracted the effect of these variables from the scores for cognate and affective well-being. Even after the subtraction the effect of Facebook itself was significant, meaning that it was the Facebook that decreased the well-being levels rather then the general mood people were at the moment they went on Facebook.

So overall conclusions are as follows:
1. The study model could predict the changes in person’s affective and cognate well-being depending on how often he/she used Facebook.
2. The more often a person uses Facebook the higher decline in the well-being is seen.
3. The number of “Friends on Facebook”, gender, self-esteem or motivation for the use of Facebook do not have any influence on the changes in person’s well-being.

Of course, it’s quite difficult to control for all possible variables in this case I’m sure there are more possible explanations for this negative ‘Facebook-effect’.
I personally have my own theory. My Facebook feed is mainly from things like ‘From Quarks to Quasars’, ‘Interesting Engineering’, ‘Nature’, ‘Wired’, ‘The Earth Story’ and these are usually all about the discoveries that people are doing, places on Earth that look like paradise, adventures that people are having and all this maybe, while at the same time making me smile, be amazed by the world and dream about the things that await me, maybe it also tickles some part in my brain that makes me think about how much I might never be able to do in this short life-time and of course makes me jealous…
But to be honest I would still go and read about all these adventures because I like knowing about them and dreaming that maybe I will someday get a chance to experience at least a tiny part of it.

Still for another person it might be completely different! Basically, my conclusion (not really a conclusion but something I have always thought) is that while Facebook is useful for some things there are better ways of spending your time. You know, those minutes spent scrolling down your feed, writing what you ate for lunch, posting stupid videos from YouTube, etc. they all add-up to quite substantial amount of wasted time. I would prefer to spend my time in a way that will give me more satisfaction, but it’s a personal choice and if a person thinks that Facebook gives him/her good time then I have no objections.

Would be happy to read your opinions on other possible explanations in the comments ☺

As ever the PhD comics has it right
As ever the PhD comics has it right

Kross, Ethan, Philippe Verduyn, Emre Demiralp, Jiyoung Park, David Seungjae Lee, Natalie Lin, Holly Shablack, John Jonides, and Oscar Ybarra. “Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults.” PloS one 8, no. 8 (2013): e69841.

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