RSS
Is Facebook making you unhappy?
More evidence that the social network leads to the blues
 
Look away!
Look away! Tetra Images/Corbis

It's a feeling we all know a little too well. We have a few minutes to kill, so we quickly scroll through our Facebook feed. The sorority sister you always secretly hated just got engaged, the guy you knew from the AV club posted photos from his vacation to Aruba, and your freshman roommate just announced she's moving to Australia. And suddenly, you're not feeling quite so okay.

There have been ample studies supporting the theory that Facebook makes us feel worse, from causing us to negatively compare ourselves to our friends, to torturing us with constant reminders of our exes and past relationships. Now, we can add a new report from the University of Michigan to the pile.

"Rather than enhancing well-being, Facebook may undermine it," says the study, which was published in the Public Library of Science this week. During the course of two weeks, participants were texted five times a day at random intervals and asked a series of questions, including how they feel, how worried they are, how many times they had directly interacted with others, and how many times they had checked Facebook since the last text. The results show that "the more people used Facebook, the worse they subsequently felt," and "the more participants used Facebook, the more their life satisfaction declined over time."

Even when controlling for baseline levels of life satisfaction and happiness, as well as amounts of direct social interaction, Facebook makes people feel worse in the short- and long-term. The fact that Facebook users were found to be more connected to their friends and acquaintances did not counteract the dissatisfaction they felt. Ethan Kross, a co-author of the study, tells ABC , "It's not the case that people use Facebook more when they feel bad." Rather, "it is something unique about Facebook that is making people feel worse."

Why exactly is this the case? This most recent study does not hit on a single explanation behind the feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction, but Kross thinks a "variety of factors" are at hand. "Maybe when you're looking at Facebook, you're engaging in a lot of social comparisons," he tells TIME. "Maybe when you're on Facebook you're not engaging in other kinds of activities that may be good for you, like getting outside, exercising, and interacting with others."

But before you gather all your willpower and attempt to boycott Facebook, you should consider whether giving up the social network will really make you happier. This most recent study is hardly full-proof. For one, the sample size of 82 participants is pretty tiny. And the researchers admit that the statistically significant associations between Facebook usage and well-being are "'relatively' small." They also note that the way the data was collected "can obscure interesting differences."

Think about it: You might feel worse, too, if people are pestering you five times a day with questions about your feelings, regardless of how often you check Facebook.

Moreover, while there is plenty of evidence that using Facebook makes you feel bad, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research late last year found that people actually experience a boost in self-esteem when they use Facebook, and this June a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison echoed those results. The idea is that people feel more confident receiving likes and other affirming comments.

And though it is easy to get caught up in the Facebook-backlash, the problem may lie more within ourselves than the program itself. "Facebook probably isn't making you lonely or unhappy unless you're using it to replace real interactions and things that give life meaning," writes James Hamblin at The Atlantic. "If social media makes me lonelier, it's only because when I try to use it to 'fulfill the basic human need for social connection'-instead of 'getting out there in new worlds."

So, as long as you unplug every so often and talk to someone rather than post on their wall, you'll probably be okay.

 
Emily Shire is chief researcher for The Week magazine. She has written about pop culture, religion, and women and gender issues at publications including Slate, The Forward, and Jewcy.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week