When people spent more time on Facebook, they became both less happy in the moment and less satisfied with their lives in general, the team reports today in the journal PLOS ONE. Because data came in throughout the day, the researchers were able to show that Facebook caused the spike in gloominess, rather than the other way around.
The new study pooled together information on all of the participants, so it’s still not clear whether some people are more vulnerable to the downer potential of Facebook or if certain kinds of activity on the site are most likely to make people feel bad. It may be, for example, that people feel worse when they are passive users but they might feel better if they engage in conversations and comments. It will take more research to parse out the details.
“Because Facebook is such a pervasive avenue with which we communicate and interact, it is really important to start trying to unpack why and how it’s affecting our psychology and our daily lives,” said Lindsay Graham, a graduate student in personality and social psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, who co-authored a recent review of Facebook research.
“This particular study shows us there’s something really important going on about how we use Facebook and what that can do to alter our mood and wellbeing for better or for worse.”
For now, experts are not recommending that everyone abandon Facebook for the sake of their wellbeing. Instead, it may simply be worth becoming mindful of how much time you spend on the site and how your Facebook activity makes you feel.
It may also help to ask yourself what you’re not doing when you’re on Facebook, like having real-life interactions with people or doing other activities that bring you joy.
And if other people’s glowing posts make you feel bad about your own life, remember that, on a site like Facebook, people tend to broadcast the good stuff and hide the rest.
“There is more variety to any person’s life,” Ybarra said, “than what they post on Facebook.”