Facebook envy can harm mental well-being, study suggests
Published Friday, November 27, 2015 5:10PM PST
Last Updated Friday, November 27, 2015 7:14PM PST
Feel down after seeing Facebook photos of a friend’s tropical vacation? Envious you’re not walking along the Great Wall of China or riding a camel in Morocco?
Feelings of depression, anxiety, and envy can be brought on by many things – and now researchers from Vancouver, Germany, and Switzerland are suggesting the world’s most popular social media site should be added to the list.
“What we find is that [Facebook] can decrease mental well-being through feelings of envy…and that would lead to a reduction in mental well-being,” says Izak Benbasat, professor of Information Systems at UBC's Sauder School of Business and co-investigator of the study, published in the latest issue of Information Systems Research.
Researchers looked at more than 1,100 college-age Facebook users, and found links to depression, anxiety, and narcissistic behaviour. Feelings of envy and jealousy were also increased on Facebook – especially when it comes to leisure and travel.
For example, when people were asked offline if they felt envious about the travel of others, around 20 per cent said yes – a number that jumped to 60 per cent when people were on Facebook.
This envy also motivated people to portray their own best selves on social media, Benbasat adds.
“In addition, you also have another response, which is you will react by posting good things and good pictures about yourself,” he says.
Daily Facebook user Cindy Evans agrees, noting that while celebrating her friends’ best moments is positive, there can be other emotions at play.
“In the evenings after my kids go to bed I see what everybody else is doing," she says. “There is definitely a bit of keeping up with the Jones’s...I do think it’s really addictive.”
Unsurprisingly, the study suggested most people don’t want to admit to these negative feelings.
When asked directly if they felt envious while on Facebook, around a quarter of participants said yes. Yet when asked if they thought other people were experiencing Facebook envy, 50 per cent of people thought they would be.
Why the discrepancy?
“Maybe we don’t want to say we are envious on Facebook,” Benbasat chuckles. “It could be a perception issue, or a socially desirable response.”
There are plus and minuses to all information technologies, Benbasat notes. The goal of the study is not to get people to stop using Facebook, but to make people - especially young people -more aware of the negative emotions that can accompany it.
“We have to realize that most people are trying to show themselves in the best light - we have to take that into account,” he says, adding that he doesn’t use Facebook because of privacy concerns.
“Maybe our persona on Facebook is not our real persona.”
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Kent Molgat