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Facebook Use Linked to Depressive Symptoms

Apr 06, 2015 04:13 PM EDT

Frequent Facebook use has been associated with a higher risk of eating disorders, and now a new study shows that it is also linked to depressive symptoms.

The social media site can be a great way to stay in touch with new and old friends. However, some users may find themselves comparing what's happening in their lives to the activities and accomplishments of their friends.

"Although social comparison processes have been examined at length in traditional contexts, the literature is only beginning to explore social comparisons in online social networking settings," Mai-Ly Steers from the University of Houston, who led the study, said in a press release.

"It doesn't mean Facebook causes depression," she was quick to add, "but that depressed feelings and lots of time on Facebook and comparing oneself to others tend to go hand in hand."

Steers and her colleagues conducted two studies to determine how social comparison to peers on Facebook might impact users' psychological health. In the first study, they did find an association between time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms for both genders. However, the results showed that making social comparisons on Facebook facilitated the link between time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms for men only.

During the second study, the researchers also found a relationship between the amount of time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms was mediated by social comparisons on Facebook - though this time gender did not make a difference.

The fact that people make social comparisons between one another is nothing new; but, the fact that they now take place online via social media is, and they may make people feel even worse.

What's more, those users already afflicted with emotional difficulties may be particularly susceptible to depressive symptoms, especially the more they view Facebook.

"One danger is that Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare," Steers explained. "You can't really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post. In addition, most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad. If we're comparing ourselves to our friends' 'highlight reels,' this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives."

The researchers hope that this study can provide insight into the dangers, as well as benefits, of using social media sites. Furthermore, they hope it will help guide future interventions that target the reduction of Facebook use among those at risk for depression.

The results were published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

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