Paying too much attention to your Facebook friends' updates could be bad for your mental health, according to a new study.
Researchers found that heavy Facebook use may make certain people experience feelings of envy, which in turn could lead to depression.
“We found that if Facebook users experience envy of the activities and lifestyles of their friends on Facebook, they are much more likely to report feelings of depression,” study co-author Dr. Margaret Duffy, a University of Missouri journalism professor, said in a press release. “Facebook can be a very positive resource for many people, but if it is used as a way to size up one’s own accomplishments against others, it can have a negative effect. "
The study surveyed 736 college students from a large Midwestern university who used Facebook for an average of two hours every day. Seventy-eight percent of the subjects identified as white Americans, and 68 percent identified as female. Their average age was 19.
These participants filled out a survey indicating how much they use Facebook and what they do on the social network. They were also asked to rate how much they agreed with statements linked to feelings of envy, such as, "I generally feel inferior to others," or "It somehow doesn’t seem fair that some people seem to have all the fun." Then, participants rated how much they agreed with phrases that corresponded to depression, such as, "I was bothered by things that usually don’t bother me" and "I talked less than usual."
The researchers found that while heavy Facebook use was not linked directly to depression, frequent users who experienced feelings of envy were more likely to identify with statements corresponding to depression. These tended to be users who compared their own lives to friends' photos of luxurious vacations, status updates about good news and so on.
This study is far from the first to examine how Facebook impacts the psyche. Research from last year suggested that the longer people spend on Facebook, the worse they feel. Other studies, such as one from earlier in the year, found that time spent on the social network might actually make people happier.
"In social science, we build on each others’ work and findings and don’t claim that a single study can establish causal relationships," Duffy told The Huffington Post.
The results from this new study aren't all doom and gloom, though. The team found that users can avoid feeling bummed out by the social network as long as they're mindful about how they consume information from it.
"Users should be self-aware that positive self-presentation is an important motivation in using social media, so it is to be expected that many users would only post positive things about themselves," study co-author Edson Tandoc said in a press release. "This self-awareness, hopefully, can lessen feelings of envy.”
The research team published its new paper in the February edition of the journal Computers in Human Behavior.