06/08/2010 12:46 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why Facebook Might Support Emotional Well-Being

We've heard it before, mostly from that one -- count him, one -- holdout friend of ours who's not on Facebook and is actually proud of it:

"I'm not on Facebook because I have real friends."

"Facebook causes stress -- you're online all the time!"

"Facebook is for shut-ins, people who are so lonely they'll talk to anyone."

He might be wrong, of course. And he might be a lot worse off than the rest of us. People who use Facebook -- or any social-networking site, for that matter -- might actually be happier and a lot less stressed than those who don't.

Not that we can give Facebook total credit for making us happy in the first place, Moira Burke, a university researcher with an academic degree in Facebook, explains. Okay, so she's a PhD candidate at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, but same thing.

But there's no doubt that checking our profile, sharing a link, or commenting on a friend's Wall makes us feel good. As Facebook teaches us, support is a good thing, so I asked Burke to share some of the exciting findings from her own work and from other researchers in the field.
Here are 5 Reasons Facebook Might Support Emotional Well-being:

  1. You Are Less Lonely

    Sounds obvious, right? When you're connected to someone, you can't be lonely. "Duh" statement of the year. The key here is "connected." You have to participate. In Burke's recent work, the people who were truly less lonely and felt stronger connections were those who engaged and shared in the Facebook experience, as opposed to just trolling around and reading other people's stuff.

  2. You Are More Open-Minded

    To the argument about Facebook leading to fewer real-life friends, Burke says: "Most research finds that online and offline social communication increase together, rather than online communication displacing offline. People who are heavy Internet users have more diverse social networks, including people from different ethnic backgrounds and different political perspectives. They are just as likely to visit their neighbors in person as are less frequent Internet users."

  3. Relationships Are Easier

    As we know just from being parents, "easy" makes life better. So much better. We live for the day we can eliminate any extra step -- throwing away the diapers for good, handing over the toothbrush, giving them the keys to the car so they can drive themselves to practice (well, maybe not so much that one). But you get the point -- keeping up relationships are hard. Even finding time to meet friends at the coffee shop these days can turn into a logistical nightmare. Facebook makes it easy to maintain relationships through "likes," photo sharing, and status updates. It's so much simpler to post an announcement on your News Feed ("I've finally left my job") than to pick up the phone or individually email everyone you know. Easy.

  4. You Are Less Stressed

    Researchers at Cornell University led by Catalina L. Toma found that simply looking at your Facebook profile helps to mollify stress through "self-affirmation." That's a fancy way of saying that you're more aware of your own goals, values, and the characteristics important to you. People who spent time on their own profiles were less defensive and more accepting of feedback. So, when you're under stress, you're better able to manage it. This makes you feel better in general.
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