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Study: Too much time on Facebook can cause depression symptoms

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Posted April 21, 2015

Sometimes they say Facebook has become a way of life for many people. Of all the social networks, this project is the only one that knows no generational limits. From grandparents to teenagers, Facebook — the largest of the social networks — attracts users of all ages.

Image credit: bykst via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Image credit: bykst via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

According to figures released this week by the researchers at the Pew Research Center, the percentage of adults using the social networks of Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter or Instagram combined to communicate with each other is now at the level of 73%. Facebook remains the world’s most popular social network with 1.19 billion users — most of them located in the U.S. Approximately 71% of U.S. adults are using Facebook for interacting with other people.

Social networks are constantly striving to perfect the usability aspect. Many of them have become effective tools for connecting with new and old friends. Personal pages are often crowded with vacation pictures, engagement announcements, photos of people’s luxury escapades, comments from friends, and various proofs of other seemingly important life events. Social networks currently take an incredibly powerful position as they encompass more and more aspects of not only our online lives, but daily life in general.

On the other hand, there is a dark side inevitably connected to the issue of social networks. A new study found that some users who spend long hours logged on social media site (e.g. Facebook) are in risk for depression symptoms, as people inevitably compare what’s happening in their lives to the accomplishments and activities of their friends.

Researchers from the University of Houston (UH) had a long discussion regarding what social network they should choose as an object for their investigation. They made a conclusion that Facebook is a good choice for their study not only because of its popularity, but because users have more opportunities to compare themselves to their friends than in other alternative projects. In the study, researchers hypothesized that time spent on Facebook is positively associated with depressive symptoms. Also, the authors of study tried to prove that the amount of time on Facebook is positively related to nondirectional social comparison, such that the more time an individual spends on social pages the more he or she is likely to perform social comparisons.

The experiment was separated into two parts involving over 300 students from a large Southwestern University.

The first part of study involved 180 participants (39 males, 141 females). In this stage of the study respondents accessed the online questionnaire via a research website and were asked to fill in the demographic information, social comparison measures, and depressive symptomology measures. Also, active Facebook users were directed to Facebook-related questions. For example, they were asked questions like “How much have they interacted with other people “directly” since the last time?”,  ”How much have they used Facebook since the last time?”, and other questions related to Facebook use.

The results demonstrated that making social comparisons mediated the link between time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms for men only. More time men spend on Facebook the more likely they are to compete with other males (possibly for female attention) and feel inadequate after comparing themselves to their peers. Time spent on Facebook did not predict women’s outcomes in the same way.

The second part of the study involved 152 participants (95 female, 59 male) aged 18 – 32 years old. This part consisted of two phases. During phase 1, participants needed to answer questions which were used in the first part of study. Phase 2 consisted of an interval-contingent diary report which was completed for 14 days following orientation. During orientation, the head of research reviewed the diary form with participants and explained that one diary record was to be completed online each night before bed. If they failed to complete an entry at night, participants were instructed to complete the survey the following morning. Participants without internet access on a given night were instructed to fill out hard copies.

In this experiment researchers found that the link between time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms was affected by social comparisons — and this time there was no difference between men and women.

All in all, both studies revealed that spending more time on Facebook and/or checking this site more frequently provided people with the opportunity to spontaneously engage in social comparisons (of any kind), which in turn, is associated with greater chance of developing depressive symptoms. Researchers mentioned that this pattern of higher depressive symptoms after engaging in social comparisons may be especially true for college students since they may still be struggling to establish their identities apart from their families, and, consequently, may be more susceptible to peer influences.

Without a doubt, technologies can be and often are a beautiful thing. In case of social networks, they connect us with others, are very convenient and, if used mindfully, can even help us find a little bit of calm. But as the old adage goes, too much of anything can be bad. This study clearly shows that people need to set limits on the time they spend in front of a computer or smartphone screen, and limit demands on their availability to avoid increased chance to develop mental disorders.

Sources: pewinternet.org, GuilfordJournalsScienceDaily,

huffingtonpost.com, MedicalDailyMedicalNewsTodayIndependent

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