When it comes to social media, we all face a similar dilemma. “Am I spending too much time gawking at other people’s lives when I could just as easily be living my own?” Are all these videos of six million pound alligators and opera singing golden retrievers really doing anything for me? Although you probably already guessed the answer, a new study published in the Harvard Business Review is here to confirm that all the Facebook scrolling, liking, and sharing you do is in fact having a negative impact on your well-being.
While you’ve likely heard it speculated about time and time again, engaging on Facebook have a pretty dismal effect on users’ mood, attitude, and mental health. Previous studies have looked at the way social media detracts from face-to-face interactions, obliterates self-esteem through self-comparison, and leads to internet addiction.
This latest study, conducted by Holly B. Shakya, an Assistant Professor of Global Public Health at UC San Diego and Nicholas A. Christakis, director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale and Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, is different for a few important reasons. First, it examined three waves of data over the course of two years which allowed the researchers to track the ways changes in social media use were associated with changes in well being over time. (Most studies on the topic use only one period of data, producing conclusions with simple associations.) Second, the study pulled information directly from participants’ Facebook accounts, rather than rely on self-reporting. And third, researchers were able to compare online and face-to-face interactions because they acquired information about participants’ real-world social networks. They noted that not everyone allowed them access to Facebook data.
The results of the study might actually be worse than we’d all expect.
Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.
Researchers conducting the study explained that although the negative association is evident, they don’t know how. And importantly — the three types of interaction they examined; liking, posting, and clicking on links, all resulted in the same dreary conclusion. They also said, these overall declines in well being are a matter of quantity rather than quality which is a relevant distinction because previous research claimed the opposite. It also makes the results of the study applicable to other forms of social media.
Ultimately the greatest takeaway from this study asserted that social media is no substitute for real-world interactions. But you knew that, right?