Facebook makes users discouraged and unhappy, according to study

Facebook makes users discouraged and unhappy, according to study

We’ve all, at one point, felt discouraged by this friend of ours who is always traveling at the four corners of the globe. We’ve all lived vicariously through our other friend who has a stable job, five kids, and still manages to look happy and healthy. At least that’s what we process –and what our friends try to sell us- through their exciting updates "live from Budapest" and their albums of a "cupcake-making workshop with the fam," events that seem so remote from our boring lives.

A study published by the Public Library of Science and written by a team of psychologists at the University of Michigan and Leuven (Belgium) shows that our Facebook use might negatively impact our level of happiness. Five times per day, over a period of two weeks, the team of researchers sent its 82 young participants a quick online survey with questions aimed at assessing how they felt at those times.

[ Related: How you can protect your privacy now that Facebook Graph Search is here ]

The questions were the following: “(1) How do you feel right now? (2) How worried are you right now? (3) How lonely do you feel right now? (4) How much have you used Facebook since the last time we asked? (5) How much have you interacted with other people “directly” since the last time we asked?”

It turns out the more the participants used Facebook, the less happy they said they felt. At the end of the study, those who had had more direct social interactions with others stated being more satisfied with their lives.

The research is not clear on whether it’s what you do on Facebook, or what you are not doing while you’re on this social media platform that causes this feeling. For example, is it because you are looking at pictures of your friend’s wedding while enduring a long period of undesired celibacy, or is it because you are not outside on a jog sending “feel good” hormones to your brain? Perhaps a combination of both?

As The Economist and ABC News pointed out, previous research shows that socializing on Facebook can have a negative impact on someone’s life, because people are comparing themselves with others’ “overcurated digital lives.”

"When you're browsing Facebook, you see people depict glowingly positive stuff. There is a social comparison process at play," the report's co-author and director of the university's Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory Ethan Kross told ABC News.

People also spend time on Facebook looking at "exes, frenemies, people they don't necessarily like, and people they can't be with in real life," Dr. Sudeepta Varma, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University and a private practice psychiatrist in Manhattan, also told ABC News.

[ Related: Facebook shadow profiles: you probably have one and don’t even know it ]

This logic might explain why meeting with people directly, in person or over the phone, is less damaging to the self-esteem. In real life our friends suddenly come across as a little more human, as their anxieties are not covered up by the superhuman identity they performed online and that we had accepted as reality.