By Manyin Lo (Bugle Team)
How often do you check Facebook? During a toilet break or many times a day? What do you use Facebook for? Checking messages or seeing what Tom from secondary school is up to?
Since Facebook has become so popular, evidence is emerging that suggests your newsfeed can affect your mood and even your long term well-being. Whether Facebook really is good for our mental well-being or not is still up for debate as there has yet to be robust evidence to prove anything conclusively.
Some suggest that Facebook leads to negative consequences because it causes you to compare your life with others, often in a way that makes you think your life is less interesting. Scrolling through Facebook you see that Jessica’s just got her dream job, or that Bob has just gone skydiving. Such posts may lead one to believe that their life is less exciting or less happy than others. However the issue with such theories is that it can be difficult to objectively measure mood in a scientific way; everyone experiences stress or dissatisfaction differently. A study by Tiemensma et al (2015) subjected 40 users of Facebook to the Trier Social Stress Test, a test used to induce stress in participants by asking them to prepare and present a speech. They were also assessed using questionnaires on their subjective wellbeing and their current mood. To increase the accuracy of the results, an objective measure of stress was collected by recording blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of salivary cortisol. The participants were then randomly assigned to a control group (sitting for 30 minutes) or the experimental group (using Facebook). The researchers found a small but significant difference between the recovery of the control and experimental group, with the experimental group taking longer to recover from stress in terms of feeling anxious and tense. This study was one of the first to use objective physiological markers in an effort to investigate the relationship between health and use of Facebook. Although it does not provide a reason for why Facebook slows the body’s recovery from stress, it does support that Facebook use can lead to negative consequences.
Now taking a look at opposing evidence: another study by Adam et al (2013) investigated whether the decrease of positive or negative updates on Facebook affected one’s mood. The study subjected participants to either a positive condition, in which the number of negative posts were reduced, or a negative condition in which the opposite occurred. The mood of the participants was assessed in terms of whether their own posts were more or less positive compared to a control group. It was found that reduction in positive posts correlated with a reduction in positive posts and more negative posts by the user; likewise, a reduction in negative posts also saw a reduction in negative posts and an increase in positive posts by the user. This would refute the theory that viewing positive posts causes a viewer to feel more negative; instead it supports emotional contagion, where emotion can spread through a network.
However, this infamous study has since faced a wave of controversy because it did not obtain informed consent from its participants. Since the study was conducted through Facebook, the experimenters argued that users already agreed to partake in research carried out by Facebook as they tick the ‘Terms and Conditions’ box when the signed up to Facebook. Nonetheless, this meant that participants were unaware that their emotions were possibly being affected by the study, they were oblivious that they could withdraw and they were not debriefed after the study-these are major ethical issues that should be taken into account in future research.
Does the evidence seem to suggest that we stop using Facebook altogether? Unfortunately, we can’t give you a final answer. Regardless of the evidence, the effect of Facebook will be inevitably different for everyone and depend on you as an individual. For example, how much social comparison affects you. However, according to Adam et al (2013), it would appear that if you have friends on Facebook who enjoy complaining, it’s better if you stay away from Facebook as much as you can…
Kramer, Guillory & Hancock (2013). Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1412583111.
Robert Booth (2014). Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-users-emotions-news-feeds.
Satici & Akin (2013). Mediating Effect of Facebook Addiction on the Relationship between Subjective Vitality and Subjective Happiness. Psychological Reports: Mental & Physical Health, Dec2013, Vol. 113 Issue 3, p948-953. 6p.
Tiemensma & Rus (2015). The inhibitory effect of Facebook use on stress recovery: A Pilot study. Psychoneuroendocrinology 61 (2015) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.07.597