Why Facebook Makes Us Feel Bad
Facebook has been shown to have a negative impact on mood. Kross, Verduyn, Demiralp, Park, Lee , et al. (2013). This particular study showed that Facebook can negatively affect someone’s mood, moment to moment and over time. If I ever announce this fact in a group setting, it is guaranteed that at least one person says “yeah, because I see pictures of my friend’s life and I feel bad because I’m not as happy/doing what they were doing/as successful”, or some other version of that sentiment. Of the few people who are without a Facebook account, even fewer of those are teenagers. Here are some ideas for why Facebook impacts mood and why it is especially important for young people to detach from it from time to time.
- The words used to describe the functions used on Facebook, such as “friends”, “likes”, “connections”, and “social networking”, mimic real life experiences but are far different than the real life version. Although they may facilitate a real life connection, while they are online they are not the same. When I think of friends, I think of a few people I grew up with, from school, from work, and my neighbor. These are people I enjoy to be around, who I like and who hopefully like me, people I could consult with or count on in some way, people I can trust. If your true friends did not acknowledge you or like you, it would hurt wouldn’t it? The words we use to understand Facebook trigger reactions in us because we respond to them as if they are on the same level as a real life interaction.
- Having others “like” posts is compared to our mind’s version of “being liked by others”, which is a fundamental need. Encoded in our DNA is a need to be accepted by others. The opposite of that is the intense fear of exclusion or ostracism. When we are excluded or ostracized our brain actually registers this in areas where physical pain is experienced. The reason that we have a painful response to an experience is so we can remember to avoid it in the future. We need to be connected with others. When we have a picture or post that is “liked” by others it feels good. Although it is not the same as the real life experience, it mimics the experience of being acknowledged and accepted. Therefore, when it does not happen, when someone does not post to your wall or like your post, it can actually hurt a little.
- As with other compulsive and repetitive behaviors, constant reading and posting on Facebook does not enrich our lives or the lives of others around us. Facebook should be compared to a video game. Would we be comfortable engaging in a video game as soon as we wake up, right before bed, while we’re at a red light, while we’re at a party, or while we’re eating dinner? No! That would be absurd, as is checking into a “social networking” site at the rate that many teenagers do.
Facebook, like other activities, has its benefits and can be fun- in moderation. Recognizing that it triggers our need to be accepted and appreciated by others is important, especially for young people who are in the process of developing their identities. Spending less time online in an artificial version of interactions may lead to an increased focus on real life experiences that are not dependent on being “liked” by “friends” in their “network.” In reality, being “liked” by our “friends” is not real validation, appreciation, or acceptance. Lets help our young people to remain aware so they may keep their profiles in perspective. Facebook may not impact mood if it is understood for what it really is, which is an online experience that is not a true representation of someone’s real life.
Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al. (2013) Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLoS ONE 8(8): e69841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069841.
Woman browsing on smartphone image available from Shutterstock.
, . (2013). Why Facebook Makes Us Feel Bad. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 21, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/resilient-youth/2013/09/why-facebook-makes-us-feel-bad/