For all its useful qualities, social media is a mixed blessing at best, as more evidence emerges linking it to negative emotional outcomes including anxiety and depression. In the latest such study, researchers at the University of Michigan administered surveys to 82 young adults about their emotional states before and after using Facebook, and found that heavier social media use was linked with increased likelihood of negative responses. Furthermore the study, titled “Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults,” suggests that social media was in fact a causative agent, rather than merely a correlated phenomenon.
The surveys (administered via text message, five times a day, for one week) asked a short series of questions about the last time the participants used Facebook, the intensity of usage, and the amount of their direct personal interactions with other people, as well as their mood. More Facebook usage appeared to lead to feelings of sadness, loneliness, and lower overall life satisfaction. Meanwhile more direct personal interaction was linked with greater feelings of happiness overall.
Importantly, the phrasing of the questions and the timing of the surveys allowed the researchers to determine that participants weren’t simply using Facebook more because they already felt sad -- thus addressing the tricky issue of correlation versus causation. In short, it appears Facebook use was actually the source of the negative feelings, rather than merely their result.
The researchers gave this unsettling summary of their findings: “The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time… On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.”