Social media is not always a happy place. In fact, many people report being happier after they take a break from sites like Facebook. One possible reason for its negative effect? Posting a status update is likely driven by envy and a desire to maintain appearances, according to a new study in the journal Information Systems Research.
Researchers from Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany and the University of British Columbia surveyed a total of 1193 college-age Facebook users recruited from a mailing list at a German university.
In one experiment, they tested how envy played out on social networks by asking participants to describe their emotions about Facebook and to describe which emotions they thought their friends experienced when looking at Facebook statuses (as a way to trick people into revealing their more guarded feelings). They found that people readily described feeling envy while reading social network statuses, especially statuses about travel and leisure. More than 37 percent of respondents noted that they were unlikely to find out about the kind of information that caused them envy (news of an awesome party, perhaps) in an offline encounter, suggesting that services like Facebook are generating envy that we wouldn’t otherwise feel.
In the second experiment, another group of students filled out surveys about specific experiences when they felt envious online and offline, and the objects of their envy. They found that the amount of social information people consumed online was linked to the amount of envy they felt, and to negative well-being. In turn, the more envy people felt on social networking sites, the more likely they tried to make themselves look good online. "Hence, envy may act as the ‘emotional multiplier’ in this ‘continuing cycle,'" as the researchers put it.
While this is just an initial study of college students, as some of the first people who grew up with social networking sites like Facebook, these young people provide an important look at how social media can affect our psychology. Just remember: what you see on Facebook doesn't represent the sum of a person's life. We're all just trying to show how cool and fun we are.
[h/t CTV News]