WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Facebook, can be an effective tool for connecting with new and old friends. However, some users who spend extended periods of time viewing the social media site may begin comparing what’s happening in their lives to the activities and accomplishments of their friends, according to a recent study by the Univeristy of Houston.
Researcher Mai-Ly Steers concluded, this kind of social comparison paired with the amount of time spent on Facebook may be linked to depressive symptoms.
“Although social comparison processes have been examined at length in traditional contexts, the literature is only beginning to explore social comparisons in online social networking settings,” Steers said in a statement.
Steers conducted two studies to investigate how social comparison to peers on Facebook might impact users’ psychological health. Both studies provide evidence that Facebook users felt depressed when comparing themselves to others.
The first study found an association between time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms for both genders. However, the results demonstrated that making Facebook social comparisons mediated the link between time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms for men only.
Similarly, the second study found a relationship between the amount of time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms was mediated by social comparisons on Facebook.
Unlike the first study, gender did not moderate these associations.
The concept of social comparison is not new. In fact, it has been studied in face-to-face contexts since the 1950’s. However, engaging in social comparisons on online social media sites may make people feel even worse.
“One danger is that Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare,” Steers said in a statement. “You can’t really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post. In addition, most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad. If we’re comparing ourselves to our friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives.”
Steers said that people afflicted with emotional difficulties may be particularly susceptible to depressive symptoms due to Facebook social comparison after spending more time on medium. For already distressed individuals, this distorted view of their friends’ lives may make them feel alone in their internal struggles, which may compound their feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Steers hopes the results of these studies will help people understand that technological advances often possess both intended and unintended consequences.
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