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In 1971, the first email was delivered. More than 40 years on, social media has taken the world by storm. Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are now used by 1 in 4 people worldwide. Such activity may seem harmless, but some researchers suggest social media may affect our mental health and well-being.
In 2012, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that Facebook use may feed anxiety and increase a person’s feeling of inadequacy.
A more recent study, led by social psychiatrist Ethan Cross of the University of Michigan, found that using Facebook may even make us miserable.
“On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection,” says Kross. “But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it.”
But are such claims exaggerated? Or should we be limiting our use of social media? Medical News Today looks at the evidence.
In essence, social media defines an array of Internet sites that enable people from all over the world to interact. This can be through discussion, photos, video and audio.
The latest statistics show that around 42% of online adults use multiple social networking sites. Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of social media users are under the age of 30, although the number of older users is on the rise. Around 45% of Internet users aged 65 or older now use Facebook, increasing from 35% in 2012.
On average, Americans spent 7.6 hours a month using social media, with the majority of individuals accessing social networking sites through cell phones.
But what attracts us to social media?
In the late 1980s, the first commercial dial-up Internet service provider (ISP) was launched in the US. Internet technology has certainly advanced in the past 25 years, so much so that the words “dial-up” make most people cringe.
Of course, one of the main attractions for connecting to the Internet was, and still is, the ability to better connect with the world around us. For example, the Internet allowed us to send emails as an alternative to the timely process of sending letters through the mail. Social media has built on this premise.
This is Facebook’s mission statement:
“Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.”
This sums up what the majority of social networking sites endeavor to achieve, and there is no doubt that the general public has succumbed to the world of social media, perhaps a little too much.
Recent statistics show that 63% of American Facebook users log on to the site daily, while 40% of users log on multiple times a day.
We all have our own reasons for using social media. Some of us like to browse at other people’s status updates and photos, while others use the sites as a way to vent their emotions. But according to Dr. Shannon M. Rauch, of Benedictine University at Mesa, AZ, one of the main reasons we use social media is for self-distraction and boredom relief.
“Therefore, social media is delivering a reinforcement every time a person logs on,” she says.
“For those who post status updates, the reinforcements keep coming in the form of supportive comments and ‘likes.’ And of course we know that behaviors that are consistently reinforced will be repeated, so it becomes hard for a person who has developed this habit to simply stop.”
This behavior can lead to Facebook addiction. In fact, such behavior is so common that researchers have created a psychological scale to measure Facebook addiction – the Berge Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS).
The scale, developed by Dr. Cecile Andraessen and colleagues at the University of Bergen in Norway, uses six criteria to measure Facebook addiction. These include statements, such as “you spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook and planning how to use it” and “you use Facebook to forget about personal problems.” The researchers say that scoring “often” or “very often” on four of the six criteria indicates Facebook addiction.
What is interesting is that the researchers found that people who are more anxious and socially insecure are more likely to use the social networking site.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study that provided a potential explanation for addiction to Facebook “fame.”
The research team, led by Dar Meshi of the Freie Universität in Germany, found that individuals who gained positive feedback about themselves on Facebook showed stronger activity in the nucleus accumbens of the brain – a region associated with “reward” processing. This stronger activity correlated with greater Facebook use.
From these studies, it appears that many users who are addicted to Facebook use the site as a way of gaining attention and boosting their self-esteem. But can this behavior have negative effects on mental health and well-being?
On the next page we look at the negative impacts of social media and whether Facebook could be used to improve mental health and well-being,
In 2012, Anxiety UK conducted a survey on social media use and its effects on emotions.
The survey found that 53% of participants said social media sites had changed their behavior, while 51% of these said the change had been negative.
Those who said their lives had been worsened by using social media also reported feeling less confident when they compared their achievements against their friends.
“This problem has definitely gained recent attention,” says Dr. Rauch. “We know that many people on social media sites often present idealized versions of their lives, leading others to make upward social comparisons, which can lead to negative emotions.”
Furthermore, the survey revealed that two thirds of participants reported difficulty relaxing and sleeping after they used the sites, while 55% said they felt “worried or uncomfortable” when they were unable to log onto their social media accounts.
In a more recent study, conducted by Dr. Rauch and colleagues, the team found that social interaction on social media sites, specifically Facebook, may have a negative impact on face-to-face encounters for individuals who already have high levels of anxiety.
Another concern regarding social media use is cyber bullying. As stated earlier in this feature, the majority of social networking users are under the age of 30, and most of these are adolescents.
According to Enough is Enough (EIE) – an organization that aims to make Internet use safer for children and families – 95% of teenagers who use social media have witnessed forms of cyberbullying on social networking sites and 33% have been victims of cyber bullying.
But Dr. Rauch believes it is not purely the use of social media that is getting out of control, but our need to be electronically connected at all times.
“I think parents should be aware that their adolescent children are living at a time where they are constantly ‘on’ and connected.
I would encourage any parent to explore ways to encourage or even mandate ‘off’ time, not just away from social media sites, but away from the devices. That is probably good advice for all of us.”
Although many studies point to the negative impacts of social media on mental health and well-being, some researchers say they could have the opposite effect. Social networking sites could be a useful tool in identifying individuals with mental health issues.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study from researchers at the University of Missouri, which claimed that Facebook activity may be an indicator of a person’s psychological health.
The team found that people who shared fewer pictures on the site communicated less frequently, had a longer profile and fewer Facebook friends, and were more likely to experience social anhedonia – the inability to encounter happiness from activities that are normally enjoyable, such as talking to friends.
Another study, from the University of California San Diego (UCSD), suggests that using social media may even spread happiness. The research team, led by James Fowler of the School of Medicine at UCSD, found that happy status updates encourage other users to post happy status updates themselves.
“Our study suggests that people are not just choosing other people like themselves to associate with but actually causing their friends’ emotional expressions to change,” says Fowler.
“We have enough power in this data set to show that emotional expressions spread online and also that positive expressions spread more than negative.”
The researchers presented their findings at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference in Austin, TX, and the Association for Psychological Science conference in San Francisco, CA.
Recently, other studies have investigated how Facebook affects our sense of belonging, and Medical News Today recently presented a feature investigating how social media affects our mental health and well-being.
It is understandable why some people choose to proclaim their love through social media. Assistant Professor Gwendolyn Seidman, of Albright College, surveyed Facebook users who were in romantic relationships and found that those who were happy in their relationship are more likely to use the platform to post photos and details of their relationship, as well as “liking” comments on their partner’s wall.
However, she and her colleague Amanda Havens also found that users high in Relationship Contingent Self-Esteem (RCSE), an unhealthy variety of self-esteem that depends on how well the relationship is going, were also more likely to post affectionate content related to their relationship.
The researchers also found that these users were compelled to brag about their relationship or monitor their partner’s activities on Facebook.
After surveying the participants about their Facebook behaviors and inclinations, the researchers measured the “Big Five” personality traits – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
For those participants who were high in RCSE, the researchers found that when something goes wrong in the relationship, it is a bigger hit to their self-esteem than it would be for those low in RCSE.
“These results suggest that those high in RCSE feel a need to show others, their partners and perhaps themselves that their relationship is ‘OK’ and, thus, they are OK,” says Seidman.
She and her colleague observed that the participants who were high in neuroticism were more likely to use Facebook to monitor their partner and show off their relationship.
Seidman says this is what they expected, “given that neurotic individuals are generally more jealous in their romantic relationships,” and adds that these people may use the platform as a means to lessen fears of anxiety and rejection within their relationship.
Contrary to what they expected, they found that extraverts – who are generally more active on Facebook, with more friends – are not as likely to monitor their partners or make affectionate posts on the platform.
On the other hand, introverts are more likely to post affectionate content and to spy on their partner, they add.
In other interesting social media news, Medical News Today recently reported on a study that suggested happy social media status updates encourage happy updates from other users. Meanwhile, another study suggested that viewing too many pictures of food on social media sites can make it less enjoyable to eat.
Written by Marie Ellis
Studies have shown that individuals who are socially anxious prefer to communicate with others online rather than face to face. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, give them the opportunity to do just that. But how does this initial virtual interaction impact face-to-face interaction later on? A new study investigates.
Researchers from Benedictine University at Mesa, AZ, and the Providence College in Rhode Island published their findings in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
For the study, the team assessed the social anxiety levels of 26 female students aged 18-20 years. This was done using the Interaction Anxiousness Scale (IAS).
Participants were then told they would be memorizing the face of a fellow student to prepare for a facial recognition test. The subjects had electrodes placed on the ring and index finger of their left hand as a skin response measure, and they were randomly assigned to one of four conditions.
The first condition – “Facebook only” – required subjects to memorize the fellow student’s face from a Facebook profile page. The “face-to-face only” condition allowed participants to study the fellow student’s face while in the same room.
The “face-to-face and Facebook” condition required participants to study Facebook photos followed by live exposure to the fellow student, while the last condition was the reverse of this.
Each participant was then asked to identify and circle their fellow student in four different group pictures.
Results of the study revealed that when a participant was first exposed to a fellow student on Facebook, subsequently meeting them in person increased psychological arousal for subjects who had high levels of social anxiety.
In other words, the initial exposure to this person on Facebook did not make a subsequent face-to-face encounter with them any easier, but rather, it made them more anxious.
The investigators hypothesize that viewing their fellow students on Facebook may have triggered self-presentation and caused subjects with social anxiety to compare themselves with that person.
They also note that participants may have felt a sense of safety when viewing fellow students on Facebook, but the shift to viewing them in real life could have made them feel agitated and nervous.
Commenting on the findings, the researchers say:
“Whether it is a priming effect or an unwelcome stimulus change, the implication for socially anxious Facebook users is the same: initial Facebook exposure may not serve a protective function during a subsequent live exposure, but may lead to an increase in negative arousal.”
The investigators note that one limitation of their study is that they were only able to generalize real world situations, as participants were not social networking using their own Facebook page. Furthermore, they only monitored subjects’ encounters with the same sex.
They conclude that because of the growing popularity of social networking sites, further research is needed.
“Its influence on those who struggle with social anxiety is particularly critical,” they add.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that Facebook activity could be an indicator of mental illness, while other research suggests that Facebook use makes us miserable.
Written by Honor Whiteman
For many of us, checking our Facebook activity has become a daily routine. Over 133 million people in the US alone are estimated to be subscribed to the social media site. But although it has become a large part of our lives, researchers have discovered that it actually makes us miserable.
A study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, analyzed 82 young Facebook users who used the site frequently – 53 females and 29 males.
Researchers from the University of Michigan adopted an “experience sampling” technique – a way of measuring how people think, feel, and behave in each moment of their daily lives.
Participants were sent a series of text messages every day for 14 days, containing links to an online survey asking them five questions:
The participants were also asked to rate their level of life satisfaction at the beginning and end of the study.
When participants increased their use of Facebook over the 14-day study period, their state of well-being declined.
The findings also showed that even when the participants increased their interaction with other people away from the site – face-to-face or via phone – they felt better over time.
Ethan Kross, social psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, says:
“On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection.
But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it.”
The researchers found no evidence, however, that people used Facebook more when they felt bad – contrary to their predictions.
Additionally, although people were more likely to use the networking site when they were lonely, Facebook use and loneliness were both independent predictors of how happy participants felt.
“This is the advantage of studying Facebook use and well-being as dynamic processes that unfold over time,” says Phillipe Verduyn, post-doctoral fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders in Belgium, and co-author of the study.
“It allows us to draw inferences about the likely causal sequence of Facebook use and well-being.”
The researchers hope to do additional research within a variety of age groups in order to analyze their results further and determine the psychological reasons behind them.
They researchers add:
“Facebook use predicts declines in affective well-being. It is possible that interacting with other people directly either enhances the frequency of such comparisons or magnifies their emotional impact.”
“Examining whether these or other mechanisms explain the relationship between Facebook usage and well-being is important both from a basic science and practical perspective.”
This is not the first study to analyze the psychological and emotional effects of Facebook. A study from the University of Missouri suggested that Facebook activity may be an indicator of person’s psychological health.
Written by Honor Whiteman
As explained in a previous article in this series, Facebook Addiction is not a recognized clinical disorder. Hundreds of millions of people use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, plan events, receive news, and play games.
For most, Facebook is a useful and enjoyable way of interacting with others online. However, some users claim to be addicted or obsessed with Facebook and have difficulty logging off even after they have been on for hours.
What is it about Facebook that makes it potentially addictive? Below, TechAddiction provides a list of possible reasons for Facebook Addiction. As you read though the explanations, keep in mind of course that not every point applies to every Facebook user. However, if you have a Facebook account you will likely find that at least a few apply to you.
Reasons for Facebook Addiction
1) Minimal Effort Catch-Up
The format of Facebook allows users to catch up with friends and family with, let’s face it, minimal effort. Posts are usually quite short (both to make and to read). One quick status update that goes out to all your friends, a short comment on a picture, or a quick “like” and you are done. Relationships that previously would have naturally died can be kept alive (sometimes on life support) on Facebook.
2) Lets Us Share Information With Many People Simultaneously
Related to the above point, Facebook allows users to share personal information with others more efficiently and with potentially better “net etiquette” than other forms of online communication. For example, rather than spam the email inbox of everyone you know with vacation pictures, the same photos can be posted on Facebook for friends to view if they choose to.
3) Appeals To The Info Junkie In All Of Us
As humans, we have an inborn and insatiable desire for knowledge and information – an infinite curiosity about the world around us. From the day we are born until the day we die, we are constantly looking for and acquiring new information. Facebook Addiction is partially driven by this never-ending desire for more information. Of course, this reasoning also applies to the appeal of the internet in general, but Facebook goes one step further by presenting personally relevant information in an easy to access central portal (i.e., your Facebook homepage). Friends, events, music, games, news, weather, politics, science, work, career…whatever you are interested in is right there waiting for you.
4) Feeds Our Naturally Voyeuristic Natures
In addition to our need for information about the world, an even stronger human desire is the need for information about other people. Humans are undeniably social animals and are natural voyeurs – not in the sexual sense (although this does happen), but in that we are extremely curious about what others are doing and saying. Facebook has made information about others public that would typically be kept private. In a sense, this allows friends to “spy” on friends and to gain information that they would otherwise not be privy to. Have you ever found yourself snooping around (sometimes referred to as “Facebook Stalking”) on a friend’s page to see what they were doing on a particular day, who they were with, who said what about him or her, or who they are friends with? Yes, I thought so. The feeding of our innate voyeurism is yet another explanation for Facebook Addiction.
5) A Forum For Our Egos
Although we may not like to admit it, one of our favorite topics of conversation is…ourselves. This is not to imply that we are all egotistical narcissists, but that there is a clear human need for self-expression – and especially self-expression followed by feedback from others. Facebook provides this forum for our egos and we can’t seem to get enough of it. The small effort of posting a picture can provide a large investment return in the form of comments, or even better, compliments. This system of reinforcement is very seductive and may help to explain why some people become addicted to Facebook.
6) Fond Memories…In Retrospect
One of the initial selling points or “hooks” of Facebook is the possibility of reconnecting with old friends – perhaps even dating back to high school. This factor may play more of a role in initially establishing a Facebook habit than in maintaining an addiction. The reason? After adding everyone you knew from high school, you often remember why you were not friends to begin with! Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.
7) Makes Us Feel Understood
One of the consequences of sharing personal information with others is (surprise) they will learn about us and understand us better (if we are honest about the information we share). Opening up and sharing personally information is of course, a pathway to more meaningful interpersonal relationships – just ask any relationship counselor! Being understood is very reinforcing as it makes us feel connected with others on a deeper level. To call being understood “addicting” is perhaps unfair. However, being understood on Facebook is likely not as meaningful or as rewarding as being understood when it primarily develops from in-person contact. Also, depending on what information you share and who you share it with, being understood isn’t always desirable! Still, a desire to have others understand us (regardless of how it happens) may contribute to Facebook Addiction.
8) Family Contact
Without question, one of the most appealing aspects of Facebook is how easy it makes staying in touch with family. Even family members living on opposite sides of the world can quickly chat with or receive updates from each other. Rather than drifting apart, Facebook truly does make it easier to stay connected to those we care about. When used to supplement (not replace) other forms of communication Facebook is definitely a great tool for families – and is just one reason why simply “quitting Facebook” is not an easy option for those who may be addicted.
9) My Mood Booster
Some Facebook users report that they use it to feel better when they are depressed, stressed, or anxious. The boost in mood may come from the previously discussed points of feeling more connected, understood, and important to others. When used only occasionally as an outlet for negative emotions, this may be relatively harmless – it would be naive to think that online support is not “real” or cannot be helpful. However, if turning to Facebook is one’s primary method of dealing with stress, depression, low self-esteem, anger or other negative emotions this is clearly not healthy and dependence on this method of mood management could contribute to Facebook Addiction.
10) Makes Us Feel Part Of An Expansive Exciting World
Although there are exceptions, most of us lead pretty normal lives. We go to work or to school, we come home, look forward to weekends and holidays…and repeat. Every once in a while we do something a bit more interesting, enjoyable, or exciting and this makes the routine of our normal lives easier to accept. Part of the appeal of Facebook is that it allows us to temporarily escape our “normal” lives and be a part of something larger, more exciting, or more interesting. For example, we may join a Facebook group for a political group or cause, have a live chat with friend who is at a great concert in another country, or become “friends” with celebrities or people in powerful positions. As such, the temporary escape to a more vibrant and exciting world may be one the factors that makes Facebook so addictive.
11) Feeds The Essential Need For Human Connection
This point is so obvious it hardly needs to be mentioned – Facebook allows us to connect with others. As social animals we absolutely need human contact for emotional and psychological health. Consequently, we are hard-wired to seek connections with others. Facebook makes establishing these connections easier than any time in human history. Everything on Facebook is designed to establish more and more connections with others. Whether it is tagging photos, finding mutual friends, getting status updates, joining specific Facebook groups, sharing lists, or playing games, the goal is always the same – make a human connection. This universal need for human connection is a likely a driving force for those who find themselves addicted to Facebook.
12) I’m Thinking About You…But I Really Don’t Want To Talk To You Right Now
Staying with the theme of “it’s popular because it’s easier”, Facebook allows us to tell others we are thinking about them, but without the effort of a phone call, the thought required for a full email message, or the expectation of a reply following a text message. A one sentence (or even one word) message on someone’s wall and your social contact obligation is theoretically fulfilled. Very convenient indeed.
13) Social Needs Fulfilled In Digital Form
Psychologist Abraham Maslow once proposed a hierarchy of human needs. In order of importance these were 1. Physiological Needs, 2. Security Needs, 3. Social Needs, 4. Esteem Needs, and 5. Self-Actualizing Needs. Most relevant to our discussion on Facebook Addiction are the Social Needs made up of the sub-needs for belonging, love, and affection. He suggested that social needs are fulfilled though relationships with friends, family, romantic relationships, and other attachments. It is very easy to see how part of the appeal of Facebook is that it makes filling these social needs much easier compared to the effort that would be required for in-person contact. Of note, the “friends commenting on my life” structure of Facebook also addresses Esteem Needs (believing in personal worth and gaining social recognition). If it did not provide a method for gaining Social Needs and Esteem Needs, would anyone become addicted to Facebook?
14) I Can’t Miss Out!
Although Facebook’s growth rate is reportedly slowing down, this is largely because it is reaching a saturation point in the market. That is, almost everyone who is online (especially teens to those in their 40s) already has a Facebook account. At this point having a Facebook account is almost as common as having an email account. So, if most (if not all) of your friends are using Facebook to chat, arrange meetings, plan parties, and generally organize their lives, you must also use Facebook if you want to be included. Not being on Facebook means missing out on online social interaction…and also being left out of real world activities. To avoid this undesirable situation, people may obsessively check their Facebook accounts dozens of times per day. It is easy to understand how a fear of being socially isolated could contribute to an addiction to Facebook.
15) Friendship Quantified
One clever design element of Facebook that may lead to addiction or obsession is the simple fact of having a defined number attached to how many “friends” you have accumulated. As previously mentioned, being socially accepted appears to be a universal human need. Having friends makes us feel appreciated, validates our sense of self-worth, and boosts our self-esteem. It is easy to understand how the desire to accumulate Facebook friends and watch that number grow could lead to excessive use. Of course, having a friend on Facebook may say nothing about the quality or depth of some of these relationships. There is nothing wrong with using Facebook as a supplement to real-world relationships, but it likely a problem if it becomes a replacement with a focus more on the quantity than the quality of relationships.
16) I’m Not Wasting My Time…This Is Meaningful!
Compared to other types of electronic or digital obsessions / tech addictions, Facebook addiction may be more difficult to spot and easier to justify. For example, someone with a video game addiction would have a hard time convincing others that an obsessive gaming habit is productive in any way (the “better hand-eye coordination” argument only goes so far). Likewise, someone with an online gambling addiction would likely show clear signs that the gambling habit is unhealthy. However, for Facebook addiction it is much easier to justify excessive use…because how can something positive like forming friends and connecting with others be seen as a problem? The answer is that even activities that are healthy in moderation (e.g., exercise, dieting) can become problems when they develop into obsessions.
17) Socializing + Gaming = An Irresistible Combination
Not only does Facebook appeal to our need for social connections and friendships, it is increasingly becoming one of the world’s most popular destinations for online gaming. Not surprisingly, Facebook tends to focus games that emphasize online social interactions with other players – which is often recognized as one of the factors that can encourage excessive play and contribute to video game addiction.
18) How Do I Really Compare To Others?
Facebook not appeals to our need for social acceptance, it also provides a forum for social comparison. Social Comparison Theory was developed by Social psychologist Leon Festinger and proposes that humans have a very strong drive to evaluate themselves by comparing their opinions, accomplishments, and abilities to others. Given this drive, the popularity of quizzes and personality tests on Facebook is not surprising. And of course, a large reason for their appeal is that after completion, they then allow the user to compare his or herself to others. It should be evident by now that Facebook addiction is not caused by creating and exploiting new human desires…but by providing a new way of meeting very basic human needs that have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years.
19) Boredom Buster For All
The reduction of boredom is a common reason people give for using Facebook. For some, the convenience of single, easy-to-use resource for news, games, and social interaction becomes the “go-to” activity whenever boredom arises.
20) Insecurity Response
For some, one of the most addictive aspects of Facebook is the ability to check out what others are saying about them, who they are talking to, what they are doing, and whether this is all consistent with what they believe to be true. That is, if someone is feeling insecure in a relationship, questions whether he/she has been told the truth by someone, or has trust issues in general, Facebook may be the source they turn to for “the real story”. Again, most people are usually able to resist the temptation to snoop around on their friends Facebook pages in an attempt to “catch” someone in a lie. However, there are some who regularly (obsessively?) use Facebook in response to jealousy and / or insecurities they have in their real-world relationships.
21) I Am Not Alone
Feeling alone is something that many people experience from time to time. When we have not had enough social contact with others feeling lonely is normal and hopefully encourages us to seek out others – this is the adaptive purpose of the loneliness emotion. When used in moderation, interacting with others on Facebook can provide quick relief from loneliness – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, when used as a primary substitute for real world contact, digital loneliness relief may not be very long-lasting or satisfying. In some situations, spending more time on Facebook in an attempt to reduce loneliness may actually contribute to long-term loneliness, depression, and Facebook addiction.