Ever since the advent of social media, the same question keeps popping up: Is Facebook making you depressed? A new study has found a correlation between unhappiness and the amount of time you spend clicking around on Facebook — but the correlation is stronger if you use this time to, say, click through pictures of your ex's new girlfriend than, perhaps, to catch up with old friends via instant messaging. While results of past studies on Facebook and happiness have yielded mixed results, this study suggests that Facebook use may have different outcomes depending on how you use the social networking site.
The researchers who conducted the study, titled "Seeing Everyone Else's Highlight Reels," had students fill out a questionnaire on the frequency and length of their Facebook usage, their tendency to compare themselves to others on Facebook, and their depressive symptoms. They found that people who spend a lot of time on Facebook are more likely to be depressed, especially if they spend the time comparing themselves to other users, and the effect doesn't appear to work in the reverse direction (i.e. people who are already depressed don't go on Facebook or compare themselves to other users more often.)
Oddly enough, both positive and negative comparisons correlated with depressive symptoms — so being glad you're not that coworker complaining about her relationship may be just as destructive as wishing you were part of the couple in the honeymoon photos. "Perhaps individuals with low self-esteem might be engaging in downward social comparisons on Facebook in order to improve or bolster their self-worth (a defensive mechanism); however, after doing so, they actually feel worse," the authors warn.
When New York asked Mai-Ly N. Steers, the lead author of the study, if we can do anything to feel less shitty about ourselves when our Facebook friends are beating us at life, she was doubtful because "social comparison is an automatic process."
That saying that nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent may not be true when the sense of inferiority is coming from your newsfeed.
So, if that girl from high school who became a CEO at age 22 is really bumming you out right now, it may be wise to unplug for a while — or at least plug in less frequently. Same goes if you're that girl and you just want to feel superior to your Facebook friends.
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