Has Facebook got you down? It might not be your imagination.

FacebookDo you ever feel like Facebook leaves you down in the dumps? Feeling kind of blue? If it does, you are not alone. It is not just you and it is not just your imagination. A recent study, “Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults,” looked at just that question.

It is clear that online social networks have been changing the way we interact with each other. With over a billion members, Facebook is the world’s largest social network. Over half of them log in every day. There is no doubt we are connected, probably more so than ever before in history. For some that could be a very good thing, for others, maybe not.

There are definitely questions as to the good or the bad of it all. I’m an old Internet junkie though and I’ve loved it from the start, excited with each and every new development. I definitely saw the possibilities. I’d be shamelessly lying if I said I did not love Facebook. Whether it is good or bad for you is another matter altogether.

Although there have been many studies on the various aspects of social media, this was the first that examined how using Facebook influences subjective well-being over time, as in how do you feel after you have been using it for a while. In behavioral science, subjective well-being is considered an important predictor of enhanced health and longevity. Earlier research showed some positive and some negative effects from the use of Facebook, but nothing definite.

This study was conducted in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It involved 82 participants and was approved by the University of Michigan Institutional Review Board. It measured individual motivations for using Facebook, including things like keeping in touch with friends, finding new friends, sharing the good and bad of life, looking for information, chat, keeping in touch with family, and facilitating schoolwork and business.

An experience-sampling approach, which is considered the most reliable method for measuring in-vivo behavior and examining psychological experience over a period of time, was used in the research. Basically, this meant that they measured people’s feelings over a designated time. They, of course, used social media to conduct the research:

We text-messaged people five times per day for two-weeks to examine how Facebook use influences the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives. (Kross et al., 2013)

Each text message included a link to online survey questions relating to how they were feeling at that moment. Before and after the sampling period, participants completed a Satisfaction With Life Questionnaire (SWLS), which is a standard measure of feelings of well-being. The results of the various were combined to provide a measure of how interacting with Facebook influences the components of subjective well-being.

The findings were that:

The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time…. On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it. (Kross et al., 2013)

The study found that the more the participants used Facebook, the more their life satisfaction levels declined. Although there could be many reasons for this, they also measured direct interaction and found that controlling for it did not substantively change the relationship between Facebook use and affective (emotional) well-being.

They also looked at the possibility that people use Facebook when they feel bad (i.e., bored, lonely, worried, or otherwise distressed) and it could be that bad feelings, which were already there, contributed to the decline in feelings of well-being and not the actual use of Facebook.

I am going to have to agree on that part, maybe something else was going on. In my own experience, after a freak accident landed me on an inordinate number of tubes for an inordinate amount of time, I really felt like Facebook was my lifeline. It was an important source of emotional support and such that it is, somehow filled in the blanks of my social life when I was not able to get out and about. There is no doubt I appreciated it being there. There is also no doubt that the reason I didn’t feel so wonderful had nothing at all to do with Facebook.

With that, I am well aware that it was not Facebook itself, but the well-wishes I received through my friends and family via Facebook that were such a positive influence for me during that time. There is also no doubt that the whole ordeal left my body and psyche pretty mangled as well. Therefore, if somebody had asked me the same questions as to how I was feeling, over that time, I would have said, “Not extremely wonderful.” I am also pretty sure that my answers would have gotten progressively worse. Unquestionably, I would have brought those survey results down—even though I personally rate Facebook as having been very important to my well being during that same time.

Facebook is just a means of communication, not communication itself. It was my friends and loved ones who sent the well-wishes. Facebook was not any more responsible for those individual messages than the postal service is for your get-well cards, although people may indeed realize its importance if we lose it.

Could be Facebook is like anything else in life. It is what you make it. If you use it to enhance your life, to stay in touch with people you care about and keep up with family and other relationships that are important to you, chances are Facebook will be a positive influence in your life. It also serves as a great means to help you stay informed, both politically and otherwise, depending on the pages you follow. However, if you use it because something is already missing in your life, and things are not going so well, it could be that you need to look beyond Facebook to fill in those gaps.


Citation: Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al. (2013) Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLoS ONE 8(8): e69841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069841

Regina Garson

Raised in the hill country of central Alabama, Regina Garson has degrees in Behavioral Science, Communications, and English. A long time writer, editor and activist, her career has involved both the social and the hard sciences. She has devoted her efforts to a number of causes including the War on Drugs, equality issues: race/diversity/women, labor and workplace issues, NASA, STEM education, and space development. She is founder and publisher of MagicStream.org, which is among the earliest self-help and wellness sites on the Internet. She also publishes a blog, where you can read more of her writing: Regina Garson's Blog. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaGarson, like her on Facebook, and read more of her articles in the archives.


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