In case we didn’t quite grasp the vastness of social media’s power over us, two new studies help hammer the point home. Facebook has some decided benefits, but it can also, apparently, mess with our minds, drawing us into dependence and luring us to make unhealthy comparisons between ourselves and others. Though some of the studies’ findings seem almost humorous in their obviousness, others point to a darker phenomenon.
One new study found that the social media monster has – you’ll never see this coming – addictive qualities. This won’t surprise most users, but it’s helpful to have a scientific study to show it. The vast majority (85%) of the 1,000 people polled said they used Facebook as part of their regular routines. About a third said they used Facebook to stay on top of things and two-thirds admitted they used it to kill time. One quarter said they felt “ill at ease” if they can’t log in regularly. Sounds a lot like withdrawal.
More interesting was that women spent about 30% more time on Facebook than men, and they were more likely to post updates about emotions and relationships than men were. The most avid female Facebook users were also more likely to be unhappier and less content with their lives than others.
That Facebook is addicting is not surprising, but the part that’s more revealing, psychologically speaking, is that the more women “used,” the less happy they tended to be. Given the unique relationship that women have with addictive behaviors, this is not something to cast aside.
In fact, another new study found that Facebook may add to the body image issues that people, especially young women and girls, grapple with. Just over half of the study’s 600 participants said that looking at photos on Facebook added to their body-consciousness, and the same number said they compare themselves to others when they view photos or status updates. Just under half said that when looking at Facebook friends’ photos, they wished they had the same body or weight the person pictured.
A third also said they actually felt sad when they compared their own photos to those of their friends, and half said that the Timeline feature actually made it easier to compare changes in their body weight and size across time.
“Facebook is making it easier for people to spend more time and energy criticizing their own bodies and wishing they looked like someone else,” said Dr. Harry Brandt, director of The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, which conducted the study. “In this age of modern technology and constant access to Smart Phones and the internet, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to remove themselves from images and other triggers that promote negative body image, low self-esteem and may ultimately contribute to eating disorders.”
This might suggest that Facebook may be doing what fashion magazines have long been criticized for: offering an avenue for young people to compare themselves to others. The difference here is that many times it’s among friends and acquaintances, rather than models. Earlier work found that the more time young women (12-19) spend on Facebook, the more likely they are to develop an eating disorder, including anorexia, bulimia, and intense dieting. More avid Facebook users were also more likely to have negative feelings about their bodies and physical dissatisfaction.
Since social media isn’t going anywhere, it might be time for us to adjust our relationship to it, and arrive at a better balance.
How’s your relationship with Facebook? Do you find yourself hooked? Do its pros outweigh its cons?
Written By: Alice G. Walton