Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) has effectively changed the way humans now interact. With over 1 billion users on the site, more and more consumers are turning to the social network to connect with friends, family members, and business colleagues — and they’re all ‘liking’ or commenting on each other’s statuses, actions, and pictures as they go. So Facebook should be thought of as a positive thing, right? It provides instant gratification and constant social media validation, after all.
However, many professionals are beginning to question the real physical and pyschological effects the world’s largest online social network actually has on its users, because Facebook, while useful in some respects in terms of connecting and networking, has also been reported to be destructive. It eats up productivity, diminishes the intimacy and privacy of relationships, and even leads to a diminished well-being for its users, as this most recent study suggests.
PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, recently performed an extensive study on this very question of how Facebook affects its users and it published its results earlier in the month. Here’s an outline of the considerable steps the research group took to prove that the social network is actually undermining its users’ well-being, rather than supporting it.
PLOS ONE recruited 82 study participants around the age of 19.5 with a standard deviation of 2.17. They were chosen from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and 53 participants were female and 29 male. All of those studied already had a Facebook account and a touch-screen smartphone.
2. Preliminary Questionnaires
Before the study began, PLOS ONE had participants fill out questionnaires and surveys that assessed how they initially felt about Facebook support, and why they chose to have a Facebook. Answers ranged from “keeping in touch with friends,” to “finding new friends,” to “obtaining new information,” to “facilitating schoolwork and business.”
3. 14-Day Testing Period
Next, over the course of 14 days, participants were text messaged 5 times per day, occurring at random times and instructing participants to follow a link to an online survey, which asked them to answer five questions:
How do you feel right now?, How worried are you right now?, How lonely do you feel right now?, How much have you used Facebook since the last time we asked?, and How much have you interacted with other people “directly” since the last time we asked? Participants were ordered to answer those questions within 168-minute windows and their answers were then assessed and analyzed.
4. Follow-Up Questionnaires
Last, after the 14-day testing period, participants returned to complete another set of questionnaires that, again, questioned their satisfaction with life via the Satisfaction with Life Scale, asked them to determine where they fit on the loneliness scale, and also had them record how many Facebook friends they have.
5. Results: Affective Well-Being
Once the 14-day testing period was completed, researchers analyzed their data and drew conclusions. PLOS ONE charted how Facebook use affected participants’ answers to the question: How well do you feel right now?
The research group ultimately found that people’s tendency to interact with Facebook during the time period separating the two text messages they received significantly influenced how they felt at T2, or the time period after receiving the second text message. The more people used Facebook between the two testing periods, the worse they felt according to the answers they provided upon text message.
Below is a figure that better explains the results based on the mathematical formula that the researchers used. You can see that interacting with Facebook during a period eventually caused people to feel worse later on during the day. It is also clear that the higher the Faceook use over the 14-day testing period, the more likely the participants were to record a decrease in overall life satisfaction.
6. Results: Cognitive Well-Being
In addition, as aforementioned, PLOS ONE’s researchers also concluded that the more participants used Facebook over the 14-day period, the more their life satisfaction levels declined — thus influencing their cognitive well-being. The questionnaires at the beginning and end of the study helped them control for each participant’s baseline life satisfaction and average emotions, allowing them to draw their own accurate conclusions.
So, there you have it. Maybe Facebook’s ‘likes’ and “healthy” connections aren’t really giving you all the social satisfaction you think you need. Of course, there are alternative explanations of the results that PLOS ONE achieved, including other social interaction that undermined the participants’ well-being, and even the possibility that they turned to Facebook when they felt bad, and not the other way around, but those hypotheses are less supported by the researchers’ gathered data.
A more significant breakdown of PLOS ONE’s methods, results, and conclusions can be found on the researcher’s article, but at least now we understand the spark notes of their trials and results. Maybe we’ll think twice before logging onto our Facebook profile every hour on the hour.