Want to feel happier? Take a break from Facebook


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"Facebook lurking makes you miserable, says study," BBC News reports after a Danish study found regular users who took a week-long break from the social media site reported increased wellbeing.


The one-week trial assigned Facebook users to either give up using the site for a week, or go on using it usual.


They were then asked about their emotions and life satisfaction both before and after quitting Facebook.


Researchers also compared the effect of quitting between heavier and lighter Facebook users.


The study found heavy Facebook users experienced a greater increase in satisfaction with their life when not using it for a week, compared with less heavy users.


The author of the study suggests Facebook use may induce feelings of envy and dissatisfaction because users compare themselves with others when scrolling through posts and photos – a practice known as "lurking", described in one paper as "scrolling through endless photos of Sandra's new Gucci handbag".


This sounds reasonable, but in an unblinded study people were aware of what they were being asked to do. 


This means it's possible that their expectations of a benefit from not using Facebook might have translated into how they reported their satisfaction.


Facebook certainly isn't all bad: it allows you to connect with far-flung friends and family over the festive period. But it's no substitute for actual face-to-face interaction.


Read more about how connecting with others can improve wellbeing.


Where did the story come from?


The study was carried out by one researcher from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. There were no external sources of funding.


It was published in the peer-reviewed journal Cyberphysiology, Behaviour and Social Networking, and is available on an open access basis, so it's free to read online.


UK media coverage around this study was generally balanced, albeit quite focused on the negative effects of using Facebook over Christmas – but this isn't what the study looked at. And the study was actually published at the beginning of November. 


Reports also focused on lurking on Facebook as opposed to using it to engage in conversation with others. While the practice of lurking was discussed in the study, there was no research into what effects it may have.


What kind of research was this?


This randomised controlled trial (RCT) aimed to investigate the effect of refraining from Facebook use on wellbeing.


The social networking site grows in popularity every day, reporting 1.59 billion active users in December 2015.


However, previous research has suggested Facebook use can have a negative effect on wellbeing. The study's author wanted to look into this association further.


RCTs are one of the best ways to determine the effects of an intervention – in this case, not using Facebook for a week.


What did the research involve?


The one-week study recruited 1,905 Danish people on Facebook. Of those included in the study, 86% were female, had an average age of 34 and an average of 350 Facebook friends. They spent a little over an hour on Facebook every day.


They were randomly assigned to one of the following groups:



  • do not use Facebook in the following week (treatment group)

  • keep using Facebook as usual in the following week (control group)


At both the start and end of the study, all participants were required to answer a 15-minute online questionnaire, which included topics such as:



  • intensity of Facebook use – this question covered six items, including number of Facebook friends and time spent on Facebook daily

  • Facebook envy – this required participants to report levels of envy towards statements covering things like "how much of the world others have seen/how successful others are/how happy others are"

  • active Facebook use – this was measured through questions about how often the participants posted a picture or updated their status

  • passive Facebook use – this related to how often participants browsed the newsfeed, viewed friends' photos, or browsed a friend's timeline


The participants were also asked about their wellbeing through:



  • life satisfaction – determined through a question in the questionnaire that asked, "In general, how satisfied are you with your life today?"

  • emotions – measured through nine items using questions from the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CES-D) Scale and the Positive Affect Negative Affect Scale (PANAS), both well-validated methods of assessing emotions and mood; participants were asked about levels of enthusiasm, happiness, loneliness, enjoyment of life, depressiveness, sadness, decisiveness, anger and worry


Of the 1,097 participants, 81% completed the one-week trial. The data obtained through the questionnaires was used to test five hypotheses:



  1. Facebook use affects life satisfaction negatively.

  2. Facebook use affects emotions negatively.

  3. The effect of quitting Facebook on wellbeing is greater for heavy Facebook users than for light Facebook users.

  4. The effect of quitting Facebook on wellbeing is greater for Facebook users who feel Facebook envy than for users not feeling Facebook envy.

  5. The effect of quitting Facebook on wellbeing is greater for people using Facebook passively compared with people using Facebook actively.


What were the basic results?


Overall, the study found people experienced greater levels of satisfaction with their life when not using Facebook for one week, compared with Facebook users.


The treatment group reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction (range: 1-10) of 8.11 compared with 7.74 in the control group.


The same effect was seen on the emotion items (range: 9-45), with the treatment group reporting an average of 36.21 compared with 33.99 in the control group.


Intensity of Facebook usage was split into three groups: light, medium and high. Light Facebook users experienced no effect through quitting Facebook (0.77 in the treatment group compared with 0.75 in the control group), whereas heavy users felt the greatest effect (0.77 in the treatment group compared with 0.69 in the control group).


Additionally, the effect of quitting Facebook was greatest for users who felt the highest levels of Facebook envy, as reported in the questionnaires.


How did the researchers interpret the results?


The researcher concluded that, "First, the present study provides causal evidence that quitting Facebook leads to higher levels of both cognitive and affective wellbeing.


"The participants who took a one-week break from Facebook reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction and a significantly improved emotional life."


He added: "Second, the study showed that the (causal) gain of wellbeing varied in relation to how people use Facebook.


"The gain proved to be greatest for heavy Facebook users, users who passively use Facebook, and users who tend to envy others on Facebook.


"These findings indicate that it might not be necessary to quit Facebook for good to increase one's wellbeing – instead an adjustment of one's behaviour on Facebook could potentially cause a change." 


Conclusion


This randomised controlled trial (RCT) aimed to investigate the effect of refraining from Facebook use on wellbeing.


It found people experienced greater levels of satisfaction with their life when not using Facebook for a week, compared with Facebook users.


This is a very interesting study and very relevant due to the large number of people across the world who use Facebook.


However, there are a few points to note:



  • This study was limited to a one-week period, and the effects of quitting Facebook may be different in the long term. Further research is needed to look into the long-term effects.

  • The participants were mainly women, so it may not be possible to apply these findings to the general population.

  • This study was not able to enforce quitting Facebook use in the treatment group, so it's possible some people "cheated" and carried on using Facebook.

  • As an unblinded study without a placebo group, it is possible that people's prior expectations of a benefit from a break from Facebook led to positive reporting on satisfaction scores later.

  • It isn't possible to confirm that the feelings reported in the questionnaires are a direct result of Facebook use, rather than the effect of something else in the participants' lives.


Facebook certainly isn't all bad: it allows you to connect with far-flung friends and family over the festive period. But it's no substitute for actual face-to-face interaction.


Read more about how connecting with others can improve wellbeing.


Links To The Headlines

Facebook lurking makes you miserable, says study. BBC News, December 22 2016


Facebook break can boost wellbeing, study suggests. The Guardian, December 22 2016


How "lurking" on Facebook will ruin your Christmas. Daily Mirror, December 22 2016


Facebook stalking friends' 'perfect' Christmas snaps makes you miserable, study finds. The Sun, December 22 2016


Links To Science

Tromholt M. The Facebook Experiment: Quitting Facebook Leads to Higher Levels of Well-Being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Published online November 1 2016



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by GetDoc Team

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