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Is Facebook making us sad?


Facebook and the world of social media has given the average person easy access to friends, family and even strangers’ lives with the click of a button or swipe of the thumb. But does having that access make our lives sadder?

This week on “Take Care,” Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers addresses the surprising link between Facebook and depression. Steers is a social psychologist at the University of Houston. Her study, "Seeing Everyone Else's Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms," was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Participants of Steers’ study were asked to report their daily Facebook usage, social comparisons they made as well as their daily depressive symptoms.

“In essence, what we found was the more time you spend on Facebook, the more likely you are to feel depressive symptoms,” Steers says.

The link starts with social comparison; comparing our lives with those of our Facebook “friends.”

“A lot of our [Facebook] friends come from different dimensions of our lives, and we may not necessarily see them on a face-to-face basis, so when they’re putting that information out there, that just gives us more opportunities to socially compare,” Steers explains.

Those involved in the study averaged 30-60 minutes on Facebook per day with an average of seven log-ons. Steers believes that we all have different tendencies while on Facebook and it is not the social media site that causes depression but rather the user.

“I don’t think Facebook causes depression, but it serves as a conduit for us to socially compare ourselves to other people,” Steers continues. “Our social comparison tendencies are automatic, and so often times we can’t control what we’re comparing ourselves to. However, what I socially compare myself to is going to be different to what you socially compare yourself to.”

Credit John Larsson / Flickr

Social media sites continue to be an outlet for people to express and showcase their lives. But Facebook posts trend toward the positive in what Steers calls “positive self-presentation.”

As a social media generation, those who participate know their posts, pictures, etc. are sent out for all to see, making the positive post and easier one. From job promotions to graduations, the tremendously upbeat atmosphere of Facebook makes it the perfect place for nonstop social comparison.

However, as Steers explains, the positivity is simply a distortion that many people fail to see.

“We are socially comparing ourselves to this positively distorted image, and we’re not recognizing that it is a positively distortive image and it can lead to us feeling more blue about our own lives because it doesn’t really compare,” Steers says.

Steers goes on to explain that face-to-face interactions are much different than Facebook chats as personal filters and understanding come into play. During personal interactions if someone knows their friend is going through a tough time they tend to keep their positivity to a minimum.

Facebook, however, acts as a border between those interactions.

“I think that a lot of the information can come across as pretty jarring because you can’t really control what your Facebook friends are going to post,” Steers says.

For more on Steers’ research and how Facebook can trigger depressive symptoms check out her article “Why too much Facebook can leave you feeling down.”