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Can More Friends on Facebook Induce Stress and Anxiety?

Heavy Facebook use can induce stress and anxiety.

Many Facebook users spend considerable time and energy collecting hundreds of virtual friends, and posting updates with the intention of increasing positive relationships, raising their self-esteem or living a happier life. At the same time, several studies have shown there can be negative impacts on users including increased stress and anxiety, and narcissism.

With approximately 1 billion users worldwide, there’s no doubt that Facebook is the most powerful social medium of social connection.

The most recent research emphasizing the less desirable outcomes of Facebook activity was conducted by Scottish scientist at Edinburgh Napier University, by lead researcher Dr. Kathy Charles. Her research, concluded among other things:

  • 12% of the users studied said their Facebook site made them anxious;
  • 30% said they felt guilty about rejecting friend requests;
  • Many said they felt pressure to come up with inventive status updates;
  • Many did not like the different rules of online etiquette for different friends.

The obvious question arises, then, in reference to this  research, if users felt stress and anxiety why do they keep using Facebook? Dr. Charles contends that the overwhelming majority of participants in her study wanted to use Facebook to keep in contact with friends and not miss out on something important. This generates pressure, Charles argues, keeping users in a state of “neurotic limbo,” similar to gambling—staying in the game waiting for the next good thing to happen.

Not all of the study’s participants were enthusiastic about the benefits of Facebook even though they continued its use. Charles found “those with the most contacts, those who had invested the most time in the site, were the ones most likely to be stressed.”

Charles argues that many users feel anxious or stressed because of Facebook’s intrinsically self-centered structure: “You are almost of mini celebrity and the bigger the audience, the more pressure you feel to produce something about yourself.”

Charles’s research is supported by previous research conducted by Ben Marder at the University of Edinburgh’s Business School. He found the more groups of people in someone’s Facebook friends, the greater to cause offense. In particular, adding employers or parents resulted in the greatest increase in anxiety. Stress arises when a user presents a version  of themselves or specific extreme behaviors on Facebook that is unacceptable to some of their online “friends.” Facebook “used to be like a great party for all your friends where you can dance drink and flirt. But now with your Mom, Dad and Boss there the party becomes an anxious event full of potential landmines,” Marder contends.

Leading VOIP and discount phone call provider Rebel surveyed 1,600 American adults about what effects social networks had on them. Not surprisingly, the results showed a classic ‘Can’t live-with-it, can’t-live-without-it” perspective. In comparison to Facebook, respondents felt LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube caused almost no stress.

Does Facebook enhance your self-esteem or does the popular method of connecting with people and "making friends," actually detract from a strong sense of self and promote narcissistic behavior? There appears to be conflicting perceptions and evidence regarding this question.

A Canadian study at York University, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, of Facebook users ages 18-25 reviewed the subject’s use of the Facebook as well as the content they posted on their profiles. The subjects were also evaluated using the Narcissism Personality Inventory and measured according to the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. The researchers looked closely at evidence of the participants “self-promotion” on their Facebook sites. Self-promotion was defined as things such as updating their status every five minutes, frequent posting of pictures of themselves, photos of celebrity look-alikes, and quotes and mottos glorifying themselves. The researchers concluded that the people who used Facebook the most tended to have narcissistic or insecure personalities.

Christopher Carpenter of Western Illinois University conducted a study on narcissism in Facebook, published in Personal and Individual Differences. His study showed grandiose exhibitionism correlated with self-promotion and entitlement/exploitiveness correlated with anti-social behaviors on Facebook.

Laura Buffardi and W. Keith Campbell, researchers from the University of Georgia, conducted research, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which supports the Canadian study. “We found that people who are narcissistic use Facebook in a self-promoting way that can identified by others,” Buffardi reports. The researchers found that the number of Facebook friends and the way posts are made on profiles correlates with narcissism. Nearly all young  people today use Facebook and it has become a normal part of social life, says Campbell, but “narcissists are using Facebook the same way they use their other relationships—for self-promotion with an emphasis on quantity over quality.”

Not all the research is critical of the impact of social media nor supportive of the narcissism claim.

A study by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., published in Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking found that viewing and editing your Facebook profile could boost your self-esteem. This research is based on Objective Self-Awareness theory, as reported by Adoree Durayappah, in a Psychology Today article. The theory suggests that people the view the self as both a subject and an object, and that Facebook can be a tool to promote greater self-awareness.

Jeffrey Hancock at Cornell University has published research in the Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking journal which concludes Facebook can have a positive influence on the self-esteem of college students because Facebook by and large, shows a very positive version of ourselves.

So whether frequent use of Facebook causes or is associated with narcissism continues to be debated, but recent studies seem to indicate that heavy use is also associated with increased stress and anxiety levels.

 

 

 

Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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