SCIENCE
10/04/2014 09:21 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Here's The Ugly Truth About How People Use Facebook When In A Bad Mood

How do most people try to get over a bad mood on Facebook? They search for friends who are even worse off than they are, a new study suggests.

“Generally, most of us look for the positive on social media sites," study co-author Dr. Benjamin Johnson, an assistant professor at VU University in Amsterdam, said in a written statement. "But if you’re feeling vulnerable, you’ll look for people on Facebook who are having a bad day or who aren’t as good at presenting themselves positively, just to make yourself feel better.”

For their study, the researchers told 168 college students that they had performed either "terribly" or "excellent" on a test (regardless of how the students really performed) in order to put those students in a good or bad mood. Then the students were asked to check out a mock social networking site called SocialLink.

The students were shown various profile pages on this site, which were designed to make the people in the profiles appear attractive or unattractive (indicated on the profile with heart symbols) and successful or unsuccessful (indicated with dollar signs). There was no difference in terms of the content in each profile's status updates.

“So the only real difference between the profiles was the ratings of career success and attractiveness signified by the dollar signs and hearts,” Johnson said in the statement.

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facebook bad moodStudy participants had to choose which of these profiles they wanted to click on. Their decision was based at least partly on their moods.

What did the researchers find? Overall, students spent the most time on the profiles of people who were rated as successful and attractive. But when the researchers compared students who were put in a bad mood to those in a good mood, they found the moody students spent more time on the profiles of less attractive and less successful people.

“If you need a self-esteem boost, you’re going to look at people worse off than you," study co-author Dr. Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, a professor of communication at Ohio State University, said in the written statement.

As The Atlantic reported, this finding is similar to how people who are "unlucky-in-love" are more likely to listen to sad songs, and how tearjerker movies actually may make people happier.

This new research was published online in the journal Computers in Human Behavior on Sept. 28.

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