Facebook posts could mean more than just wanting to upload a few holiday snaps, with a recent study by the University of British Columbia, finding that envy is the key motivator behind many Facebook updates, which isn't a good thing for users' mental well-being.
To find out more about the possible negative effects of Facebook use, researchers surveyed 1,193 Facebook users at a German university. The students responded to a series of questions about their use of the social network, and reported the feelings that they experienced while using it. The team then cross-referenced the students' Facebook habits with their reported feelings, finding that Facebook led users to feel unfulfilled by their own lives when compared to those of others.
"Social media participation has been linked to depression, anxiety and narcissistic behaviour, but the reasons haven't been well-explained. We found envy to be the missing link."
The team concluded that such feelings of unfulfillment, jealousy and self-importance are among the main motivators behind many posts on the site, as users attempt to portray their best selves. "Social media participation has been linked to depression, anxiety and narcissistic behaviour, but the reasons haven't been well-explained," said Izak Benbasat, one of the authors on the study, "We found envy to be the missing link."
The team also found that travel photos are one of the strongest factors behind Facebook-induced envy, with people posting their most perfect holiday photos in an attempt to portray a more perfect, if unrealistic, life. The reason for this however was not to induce jealousy in others, but rather a desire to compete with friends and maintain appearances.
Benbasat commented that due to the nature of social networking, these types of post are unlikely to change. However measures can be taken to reduce these negative feelings, "Sharing pictures and stories about the highlights of your life -- that's so much of what Facebook is for, so you can't take that away," he said. "But I think it's important for people to know what impact it can have on their well-being. Parents and teachers should take note as young people can be particularly vulnerable to the dark side of social media."
This research is not the first to find that Facebook can cause feelings of unhappiness and unfulfillment. In a study published last month a team of researchers from the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark reported their findings that Facebook users are 39 per cent more likely to experience feelings of unhappiness than non-Facebook users. In the study participants that went one week without Facebook reported an improved social life and better concentration, with a higher percentage of abstainers reporting feelings of happiness and satisfaction with their lives than those who continued to use the site.
"Travel photos are one of the strongest factors behind Facebook-induced envy, with people posting their most perfect holiday photos in an attempt to portray a more perfect, if unrealistic, life."
The Dutch website 99 Days of Freedom is an online study on how a Facebook-free life can affect happiness. Users can sign up on the website for 99 Facebook free days, or longer if they choose, to see what impact it has on their life. Some 43,346 people are currently subscribed.
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