According to data provided by Facebook last year, the average user spends almost an hour on the site every day.
A survey by Deloitte found that for many smartphone users, checking social media sites is the first then they do in the morning – in most cases before even getting out of bed.
Social interaction is a core part of human life and necessary for human existence. Many studies have confirmed that most humans thrive when they have strong and positive relationships with other human beings.
The problem with applying these studies to social interaction online is that the studies have been conducted on “real world”, face-to-face interactions. Yet what happens when social interaction occurs through an electronic screen? When your first thought after awaking is to reach for your phone, what long term impact does this have on you?
Previous research has shown that using social media may detract from face-to-face relationships, reduce investment in meaningful activities, increase sedentary behavior, lead to internet addiction and reduce self-esteem through unfavorable social comparison.
It turns out that social comparison can be a particularly strong influence on human behavior. This occurs because people show the most positive aspects of their lives on social media, resulting in people assuming their own life compares unfavorably with others.
Some sceptics have argued that social media use is high amongst people who are already feeling bad about their life, rather than being the cause of the bad feelings. Others say that social media has a positive impact by resulting in increased social support and reinforcement of existing relationships.
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The Harvard Business Review set out to gain clarity on the relationship between social media use and well being. In their study, they used three waves of data from 5,208 adults from a national longitudinal panel maintained by the Gallup organization, along with several different measures of Facebook usage, to see how well-being changes over time in relationship with Facebook use. They measured well-being through how people reported their life satisfaction, mental health, physical health and measured their body-mass index. Measures of Facebook usage included liking others’ posts, creating their own posts, and clicking on links. They then compared this to participants’ real world social networks.
Overall, the research revealed that while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. The results showed a strong correlation with mental health, with most measures of Facebook usage predicting a decline in mental health a year later.
They found that “both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicated a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.”
The Harvard researchers believe their results may be relevant for other forms of social media.
“Exposure to the carefully curated images from others’ lives leads to negative self-comparison, and the sheer quantity of social media interaction may detract from more meaningful real-life experiences. What seems quite clear, however, is that online social interactions are no substitute for the real thing.”