Facebook use can lead to symptoms of depression if the social networking site triggers feelings of envy among its users, a new study has found. Researchers at the University of Missouri said the way in which Facebook users use the site makes a difference in how they respond to it.
"Facebook can be a fun and healthy activity if users take advantage of the site to stay connected with family and old friends and to share interesting and important aspects of their lives," said Margaret Duffy, a professor and chair of strategic communication at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.
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"However, if Facebook is used to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship - things that cause envy among users - use of the site can lead to feelings of depression," Duffy added.
For their study, Duffy and Edson Tandoc, a former doctoral student at MU and now an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, surveyed young Facebook users. They found that some of those who engage in "surveillance use" of Facebook also experience symptoms of depression while those who use the site simply to stay connected do not suffer negative effects.
Surveillance use of Facebook occurs when users browse the website to see how their friends are doing compared with their own lives. The researchers found that Facebook postings about things such as expensive vacations, new houses or cars, or happy relationships can evoke feelings of envy among surveillance users.
They said that these feelings of envy can then lead to Facebook users experiencing symptoms of depression. "We found that if Facebook users experience envy of the activities and lifestyles of their friends on Facebook, they are much more likely to report feelings of depression," Duffy said.
"Facebook can be a very positive resource for many people, but if it is used as a way to size up one's own accomplishments against others, it can have a negative effect," Duffy added. "It is important for Facebook users to be aware of these risks so they can avoid this kind of behaviour when using Facebook," Duffy said. The study is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.