Earlier this year, a study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggested that Facebook was making its users sad. The authors of the paper, titled "Misery Has More Company Than People Think," claimed that the constant barrage of positive depictions were making people feel inadequate, thus leading to depression.
But a new study from the University of Wisconsin is now indicating that there's lots to dislike about this conclusion.
On the face of it, the original study makes sense. Everybody's Facebook news feed is glimmering with positivity — whether it be your friends' exciting vacation pics, glamorous graduation photos, or of course, their incessantly perpetual ability to only "like" things. The end result, as lead author Alexander Jordan noted, is that "people may think they are more alone in their emotional difficulties than they really are."
But a recent study conducted by Lauren Jelenchick and Megan Moreno may have overturned this conclusion. They are claiming to have produced the first evidence that refutes the supposed link between depression and the amount of time spent on social networking sites like Facebook.
To reach this conclusion, they surveyed 190 University of Wisconsin-Madison students between the ages of 18 and 23. Their online habits were meticulously recorded in real-time, with their moods evaluated by a validated, clinical screening method for depression.
Looking at the data — and paying particular attention to those users who spent considerable time on social networking sites — Jelenchick and Moreno could not find any significant associations between social-media use and the probability of depression. In turn, they suggested that clinicians and parents should relax about all the time young adults spend on social media sites like Facebook. The findings were published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
All this said, the study could have been better. At 190, the sample size was fairly small, and the five year age spread fairly limited in scope. Moreover, by focusing exclusively on college students, the researchers failed to study the impacts of social networking use on other, potentially more vulnerable, groups. In future, it would be good to see a more thorough investigation into the effects of heavy social networking use on mood — particularly in its ability to induce habitual behaviors.
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