Health Column: Does Facebook really help your social life?


It’s a way of keeping in touch with friends and family — a way to enhance professional relationships and sometimes even cultivate romantic ones. I’m referring to Facebook, which has revolutionized the way we communicate with one another. 

But can having access to hundreds and even thousands of people all day, every day have a negative impact on us?

That’s what a number of researchers are trying to figure out.

Southold therapist Susan Dingle calls the connections we make through the website “pseudo connections” and said they don’t fulfill your actual desire for face-to-face interactions.

In fact, she said, the quasi-connections can actually make people feel more isolated.

Naturally, people tend to post Facebook status updates about their best moments and greatest achievements, she explained. But at the same time, “We do have a human tendency to compare ourselves with others,” she said, noting that such comparisons can generate negative thoughts.

“You see posts of people away on vacation in Europe, perhaps, while you’re left home, saying ‘I’m not doing anything,’ ” she said.

In 2012, a group of University of Michigan researchers polled 82 young adults daily about their personal well-being after using the site.

They found that the more participants used Facebook over a two-week study period, the more their personal satisfaction outlook declined over time.

“On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection,” said Ethan Kross, the study’s lead author. “But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result — it undermines it.”

Another study published in June by researchers from the University of California and Cornell University revealed that the emotions users express on the site influence what their Facebook friends then express.

The study manipulated users’ news feeds to show a majority of Facebook friends writing positive thoughts at certain times, and a majority of friends writing negative thoughts at other times.

Talk about hitting personal highs and lows — it found that the users’ own posts during those times were more likely to fit whichever emotion was trending.

And just how much time does participating in these online “pseudo connections” take away from forming ones with real, live people? Especially if, as some researchers have claimed, you’re addicted to Facebook?

In 2011, a team of researchers from Norway actually developed a psychological scale measuring addiction to the website called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale.

They found that addiction to the website does occur, more often in younger users and users who are anxious and/or socially insecure, “probably because those who are anxious find it easier to communicate via social media than face-to-face,” said Dr. Cecilie Schou Andreassen of the University of Bergen in Norway in a press release.

Ms. Dingle said the scale, which consists of six questions, is similar to tests used to gauge addiction to alcohol or other substances. She noted that anything can become addictive.

Take this scenario, for example: You post a cute photo of your cat (in my case, my adorable kitten, Jax) to Facebook and see the ‘Likes’ pour in.

But after doing so, do you find yourself checking your notifications more frequently? Or wondering why no one has taken a moment to comment on the picture?

Sure, you’re just trying to share your enjoyment with others — but if your answers are yes — is it possible you’re actually leaving yourself feeling shortchanged?

Miller_HeadshotGot a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected]