A new study shows that people think their virtual neighbor’s grass is greener just like they do their real neighbors. According to researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia, becoming envious of your Facebook friends can cause depression.
It’s all about envy
Margaret Duffy, a professor and chair of strategic communication at the MU School of Journalism, says that how Facebook users use the site makes a difference in how they respond to it.
“Facebook can be a fun and healthy activity if users take advantage of the site to stay connected with family and old friends and to share interesting and important aspects of their lives,” Duffy said. “However, if Facebook is used to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship–things that cause envy among users–use of the site can lead to feelings of depression.”
More on the Facebook envy story
Duffy and Edson Tandoc, a former doctoral student at MU and now an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, surveyed 700 young Facebook users for this study. The study was recently published in Computers in Human Behavior.
Patrick Ferrucci, an assistant professor at Bradley University, was a co-author of the study
They found that a significant number of those who engage in “surveillance use” of Facebook also experience symptoms of depression, while those who use the social media site just to stay connected do not suffer negative effects. Surveillance use of Facebook is when users browse to see how their friends are doing compared with their own lives. Duffy and Tandoc found that Facebook postings about expensive vacations, new houses or cars or great relationships can create feelings of envy among those admitting to surveillance use. They note that these feelings of Facebook envy often develop into Facebook users experiencing symptoms of depression.
“We found that if Facebook users experience envy of the activities and lifestyles of their friends on Facebook, they are much more likely to report feelings of depression,” Duffy explained. “Facebook can be a very positive resource for many people, but if it is used as a way to size up one’s own accomplishments against others, it can have a negative effect. It is important for Facebook users to be aware of these risks so they can avoid this kind of behavior…”
“Social media literacy is important,” Tandoc elaborated. “Based on our study, as well as on what others have previously found, using Facebook can exert positive effects on well-being. But when it triggers envy among users, that’s a different story. Users should be self-aware…that many users would only post positive things about themselves. This self-awareness, hopefully, can lessen feelings of envy.”