We all know that Facebook is eating up our free time. But new research suggests that the social network may be making us fat and poor.
Facebook increases our self-esteem, which negatively impacts our decision-making skills and judgement, according to Andrew Stephen, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and Keith Wilcox, associate professor at Columbia University. In turn, Facebook lowers our self-control and encourages negative behaviors like overspending and overeating.
The researchers found that more time spent on Facebook means higher credit card debt. Just five minutes of Facebook usage a day was proven to lower a user’s self-control, according to the study, which was based on an Internet survey of 541 American Facebook users.
Facebook surpassed 1 billion users worldwide in early October and is expected to see that figure double by 2014, according to some estimates. The average American spends eight hours a month on Facebook mostly due to boredom, according to a recent study. In America, 71.2 percent of Internet users are on Facebook, according to the social network.
Despite Stephen and Wilcox’s findings, the relationship between social networks and self-esteem is hotly contested. According to research published by Computers in Human Behavior, the 526 million people who log on to Facebook every day experience a self-esteem boost by using their profiles to construct how others see them. However, another study by a Ph.D. student in Stanford’s psychology department found that Facebook leads users to feel dejected and worthless when comparing their lives to those of their friends online.
Regardless of how Facebook makes users feel, Stephen and Wilcox’s study confirms previous research that has found that lower credit scores and credit card debt are strongly associated with poor self-control. In a 2001 survey, 40 percent of credit card holders blamed self-control problems on the widespread availability of credit cards, which increase our ability to overspend.
Nearly half of all Americans do not know what their credit score is, according to a survey of 2,200 people from CouponCabin.com. In September, the average American household had about $6,700 in credit card debt with U.S. credit card debt in 2011 totaling $46.7 billion.