Sunday, 8 February 2015

Are There Any Consequences Associated With Using Facebook?

We have all heard at one point or another that Facebook can have a negative impact on our lives. I know for myself, I feel both envious and sad when I see my friends posting pictures on Facebook, from their night out or, while on a vacation somewhere that I could never afford to go on. So I decided to do some research to find out how and why Facebook can have such an effect on me. Shockingly, despite the increase popularity of Facebook, there isn't a lot of research that have looked at the emotional impact it can have on us. However, recently in a three-part study, Sagioglou & Greitemeyer (2014), set out to investigate the consequences of using Facebook and the effect it has on our emotional well-being.

Study 1.
In the first study, the researchers wanted to know whether our time spent actively using Facebook (this means chatting and/or browsing through pictures and not just logged in) is related to our emotional state afterward. The participants were recruited by clicking a link on Facebook that redirected them to a survey about their current mood. The first study found that the more time participants spent on Facebook, the lower their current mood was. Interestingly, the authors found that general Facebook and Internet use did not affect the participants' mood, which means that you would have to be actively engaged on Facebook for it to have an effect.

What causes the change in our mood immediately following active Facebook use?

                                                       Study 2.

In the second study, the researchers wanted to know why it is that Facebook can have such an impact on us. They conducted an experiment to see whether its active Facebook use that lowers our mood, or the person’s bad mood that causes their Facebook usage. The researchers predicted that the change in mood was because we felt like we hadn’t done anything meaningful and had wasted our time. They also wanted to make sure that it was Facebook itself and not any other online activity causing the decrease in mood, so they compared active Facebook use with a general internet browsing group and a no activity group. 

Like in the first study, a link was posted on Facebook redirecting participants to the study, and after opening the link, the participants were assigned to one of the three groups. The participants who were assigned to the Facebook group were then asked to actively use Facebook for 20 minutes, then return back to complete the survey. The participants in the browsing group were asked to spend 20 minutes actively browsing the Internet but not to use any social networks (i.e. no Facebook). Whereas, the participants in the no activity group did not receive any instruction, but were immediately forwarded to the survey. After all three groups had completed the survey, their results showed that the participants in the Facebook group reported having spent the past 20 minutes doing something less meaningful than both of the two control groups. Additionally, like in the first study, the participants who were active on Facebook, also reported having a less positive mood than the participants in the two control groups.

So to sum it up, Facebook is seen as less meaningful, less useful, and more of a waste of time, which then lowers our mood. If you look at the image above, it seems that Mark Zuckerberg, the Creator of Facebook, agrees that Facebook makes you feel like you have wasted your time.

If this is the case, why do we continue to use Facebook if we end up wasting our time and feeling worse than we did before we logged in?

Study 3

In the third study, the authors suggested that the reason we continue to use Facebook might be due to us misjudging Facebook to have positive effects. This misjudging then prevents us from reducing the amount of time we spend on Facebook, thereby decreasing our mood. So in the third study, participants were provided with a link to a survey asking one question: “what would you say, how do you feel after being active on Facebook for 20 minutes?” Interestingly, the results showed that our continued use of Facebook is due to something called an "affective forecasting error". What this means is that the reason we continue to use Facebook is because we expect to feel better after spending some time on it, when in fact, we end up feeling worse than we did beforehand.

You might ask, what causes this "affective forecasting error" to keep occurring? 

That still remains unclear, but, the authors suggest that it might be due to a few reasons:

1. We have a need to belong. We like to socialize, gossip and share our lives with one another, and Facebook allows us to do just that. 

2. We choose to remember the rare moments we felt more positive after using Facebook, instead of the many times we felt negative. Like the saying goes, it’s the rare moments that we remember most.

What next?

What I learned from the studies is that we need to be more mindful of our use of social networking sites, such as Facebook. Although Facebook has many advantages (e.g. the opportunity to "connect and share with the people in our lives", as the Facebook homepage states), there are serious disadvantages associated with using it such as, envy, negative mood, reduced life satisfaction and psychological needs. There is still a lot we don't know about the effects social networking sites can have on us. The authors suggest that more studies need to look at the motivational reasons for Facebook use, by researching precisely what it is that people hope to gain from using social networking sites. Additionally, more research is needed to explore the long-term effects of using Facebook. With the growing popularity of other sites like twitter and Instagram, more research is needed to investigate the impact it can have on not just our emotional well-being, but our overall well-being.

Sagioglou, C., & Greitemeyer, T. (2014). Facebook's emotional consequences: Why facebook causes a decrease in mood and why people still use it. Computers in Human Behavior, 35, 359-363. doi:

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