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May 26, 2024

Facebook use may be linked to depression

By SARI AMIEL | April 16, 2015

At some point, you’ve probably logged on to Facebook to check a quick fact and instead found yourself spending an hour mechanically scrolling through their News Feed. If you’ve felt frustrated that everyone else seems to be having a blast while you’re squinting at an electronic screen, you’re not alone. A recent University of Houston study revealed that the amount of time people spend on Facebook is correlated with symptoms of depression. The study attributed this depression to the social comparisons that Facebook users engage in. Regardless of whether people reported engaging in upward social comparison — contrasting their lives with people whom they consider more popular — or downward social comparison — contrasting with those below them in social standing — they still displayed more depressive symptoms. According to the authors of the study, comparing one’s self to others on Facebook can be more emotionally damaging than in-person social comparisons, because people tend to only post the best aspects of their lives on Facebook. Sophomore Amanda Jan, a member of A Place to Talk (APTT), could not definitively conclude that Facebook is causing depression, but said that other factors are also responsible for feelings of depression among students. “I think it’s really difficult to say because this is the first generation that’s ever had a Facebook,” Jan said. “Obviously, there’s a huge usage of Facebook on our campus and in our generation in general. But I think that either way, whether it’s caused by Facebook or not, the important thing is there is a tremendous need among our generation... for support with mental health.” This was not the first study to tie Facebook to negative emotions. A study conducted by the University of Missouri in February found that Facebook users tend to feel unhappy and envious when they comb through their friends’ pages without liking or commenting on others’ posts. A 2013 study also revealed that Facebook makes its users feel more alienated, and it determined that the users it surveyed had similar personality traits. This outcome could not be explained by arguing that lonely people are more likely to visit Facebook. Another study linked negative body image to time spent on Facebook. After surveying adolescent girls about their use of the site, researchers found that girls who spent a lot of time looking at others’ photos on Facebook tended to be unhappy with their weight. However, the researchers acknowledged that girls who are self-conscious about their appearance may be more likely to view pictures on Facebook than girls who are not. On the other hand, not all research agrees that Facebook is making us sadder. In July of 2009, several researchers found that the amount of Facebook use is correlated with an increase in its users’ social trust, political involvement and life satisfaction. An additional study took a more quantitative approach to linking Facebook with happiness. After analyzing hundreds of millions of posts, it found that a positive Facebook post causes the number of negative posts subsequently made by one’s friends to fall by a factor of two. A negative Facebook post, however, prompts the amount of friends’ positive posts to fall by only a factor of 1.3. This suggests that positive emotions are better transferred through Facebook posts than negative ones. Jan thinks the effect that Facebook has on users’ emotions varies based on their personality, their mood and the particular posts they are looking at. She referred to the blast of statuses on college admissions as one Facebook activity that feels intimidating, but at the same time notes how Facebook can make her more politically informed. “I’m not the kind of person who tends to go out and read articles on my own, but if [my friends] put up articles, I have a tendency to click on them and read them. Whatever way [Facebook’s effect] leans tends to be based on who you are as a person, and how you’re feeling that day, before you even get on Facebook,” Jan said. Jan explained how she would react if a student approaches her and describes symptoms of depression. “One of the things we’re taught in APTT is when someone walks into the room... you don’t know anything about their history or anything if they don’t tell it to you. I wouldn’t first of all assume that Facebook is either correlated to or causing this student to be upset,” she said. “If it does seem to be related to Facebook, I would hope that whoever they talk to can flush it out a little more and then ask how they think they should go about things in the future if Facebook is being a negative impact on their life.”

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