Posted by: zachputnam | November 29, 2015

How Does Facebook Make You Feel About Yourself?

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It was interesting to read the findings in this 2009 article about Facebook’s effects on its users’ psyches. The authors of that study found “positive relationships between intensity of Facebook use and students’ life satisfaction, social trust, civic engagement, and political participation.”

As reassuring as the results of that study are, I was reminded of another study I saw drift across my own Facebook newsfeed recently, the Huffington Post headline above. That article references a 2014 academic paper which found that Facebook activity negatively affected people’s emotional state, creating feelings “such as envy, lowered life satisfaction, reduced satisfaction of basic psychological needs, and dampened mood.”

The stark contrast in the findings of these two studies raises some interesting questions about the current state of research into the relationship between new forms of mass communication and the society that uses them.

For one, it’s difficult to measure some of the elements of these studies. How do you quantify a person’s “life satisfaction?” How do you catalog someone’s Facebook use when it is increasingly a part of everything we do online?

Perhaps more importantly, the nature of our relationship with these new forms of media is still taking shape. I think it’s altogether possible that there has been a shift in the psychological effects of Facebook in the five years between the first study and the second.

What do you think, does the contrast between these two studies indicate differing research methods, or a societal change in our relationship with Facebook?

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Responses

  1. In all likelihood, the contrast can be accounted for with a mixture of both. However, it seems to me that the scale is tipped toward evolution of use. Facebook was launched in 2004. The study conducted by Valenzuela, Park, and Kee was published in 2009. Facebook has now been around for more than twice as long as it had been at the time of their study.

    As you suggested, the nature of our relationship with Facebook is still taking shape. What once was a sort of self-contained social experience has entered a state of ubiquity, with pervasive “Like” or “Share” buttons sprinkled throughout nearly every online domain. It has become more and more difficult not to participate in one way or another.

    In the 2009 study, it was suggested that students with lower levels of life satisfaction may participate in Facebook in order to enrich their lives. Do we still make that choice, or has Facebook accrued such a diverse user base that participation is now standard for the general populace; satisfied or not?

    If Facebook is so ingrained in our society that users partake on autopilot, it makes sense that the experience would be less satisfying, and specifically more dissatisfying, than it would be for someone who was actively seeking social engagement in the site’s earlier days. Again, though, this is just one possible aspect of a multi-layered answer.


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