An American Editor

August 30, 2013

Worth Noting: Are You Less Satisfied?

Are you less satisfied with life than you think you should be? The answer as to why you are and I am not may well surprise you.

The culprit may be Facebook!

How much time do you spend on Facebook?

Past researchers found a link between Facebook use and jealousy, social tension, social isolation, and depression, but those studies were cross-sectional, making them unreliable for drawing broad conclusions. Those studies may have confused correlation with causation: It is equally possible that those spending more time on Facebook are generally more prone to negative emotions than those who spend less time as it is that the cause of the negative emotions was spending time on Facebook.

In an intriguing study published August 14, 2013, researchers from the psychology departments at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and University of Leuven (Belgium) found that the more time one spends on Facebook, the less satisfied one is with life (see Kross E, Veduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al.  Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PLoS ONE 2013;8(8):e69841). From the Abstract:

Over 500 million people interact daily with Facebook. Yet, whether Facebook use influences subjective well-being over time is unknown. We addressed this issue using experience-sampling, the most reliable method for measuring in-vivo behavior and psychological experience. We text-messaged people five times per day for two-weeks to examine how Facebook use influences the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives. Our results indicate that Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time. Interacting with other people “directly” did not predict these negative outcomes. They were also not moderated by the size of people’s Facebook networks, their perceived supportiveness, motivation for using Facebook, gender, loneliness, self-esteem, or depression. On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.

Another study was conducted by social science researchers from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany) and Technische Universität Darmstadt (Germany), which was presented at a social science conference in February-March 2013 (see “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?”), and which found that Facebook aroused envy of others in users, leading to dissatisfaction. From the Abstract:

The wealth of social information presented on Facebook is astounding. While these affordances allow users to keep up-to-date, they also produce a basis for social comparison and envy on an unprecedented scale. Even though envy may endanger users’ life satisfaction and lead to platform avoidance, no study exists uncovering this dynamics. To close this gap, we build on responses of 584 Facebook users collected as part of two independent studies. In study 1, we explore the scale, scope, and nature of envy incidents triggered by Facebook. In study 2, the role of envy feelings is examined as a mediator between intensity of passive following on Facebook and users’ life satisfaction. Confirming full mediation, we demonstrate that passive following exacerbates envy feelings, which decrease life satisfaction. From a provider’s perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability.

According to both of these 2013 studies, Facebook has a negative effect on the emotional well-being of the young adults who were studied and surveyed. Unanswered, of course, is whether older folk who are frequent users of Facebook fare better than the young adults studied. (I wonder what the researchers’ results would be should they study LinkedIn users.)

Perhaps it is time to kickback, relax, enjoy a cup of tea, say goodbye to Facebook, and do more face-to-face social interacting. I can only conclude that my satisfaction with life is enhanced because I am not a Facebook user. Perhaps that accounts for my generally upbeat disposition :).

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