Who Are Happier, Facebook Users or Facebook Holdouts?

New research explores the relationship between Facebook use and happiness.

Posted Nov 20, 2019

Pxhere
Source: Pxhere

Using Facebook is, in some sense, a Catch-22 situation. On one hand, it enables interpersonal connections and can be used to strengthen social bonds. Yet, it can also be psychologically destructive. One study, for instance, found that quitting Facebook for a week significantly increased people's psychological well-being.

What does the latest science have to say about this ongoing debate? New research forthcoming in the journal Frontiers in Psychology reiterates the finding that using Facebook likely causes more psychological harm than good.

"Social networking sites, such as Facebook, attract millions of users worldwide by offering highly interactive social communications," states the author of the study, Stefan Stieger. "Although Facebook comes with the advantage of higher social connectedness, it does not seem that this makes us more satisfied with our lives. On the contrary, it appears to possess features that either spur problematic Internet use or attract people with addictive tendencies."

To arrive at this conclusion, Stieger recruited 3,353 German-speaking adults to participate in a short survey. In the survey, participants were asked to complete the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS), a five-item scale measuring people's general life satisfaction. Participants also reported whether they were Facebook users, how often they used the social network, and how many friends they had on the network. Finally, participants were asked to complete the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and the Three-Item Loneliness Scale.  

Stieger's objectives were threefold. First, he wanted to know whether Facebook users were more satisfied with their lives than non-users. Second, he wanted to know whether Facebook users with more Facebook friends were more satisfied with their lives than users with fewer Facebook friends. Finally, he wanted to test whether frequent users of Facebook were any more or less satisfied with their lives than infrequent users.

Here's what he found: First, Facebook users did not report higher levels of life satisfaction. If anything, results trended in the opposite direction; that is, non-users exhibited slightly elevated levels of life satisfaction. Second, he did not find evidence to support the idea that Facebook users with more Facebook friends were any more satisfied with their lives than users with fewer Facebook friends. He did find, however, that the self-reported quality of people's close offline relationships was associated with higher levels of life satisfaction. Finally, Steiger found that frequent Facebook users exhibited significantly lower levels of life satisfaction than infrequent users.

"Social contact should normally facilitate our satisfaction with life," Stieger writes. "Humans are social beings: we have a drive to build social groups and to communicate. [...] Nevertheless, in the present [study], no positive effect of having a Facebook account or having more Facebook friends was found."

No study is without its limitations. Stieger notes that there may be certain personality types that benefit from social media use. Some studies, for instance, have suggested that "active" social media users — people who are more likely to engage with others and share things online — benefit more from social media use than "passive" users. Future research, he suggests, should explore the character traits of people prone to the negative and positive effects of social media use.

References

Facebook Usage and Life Satisfaction; Stefan Stieger. Published in Frontiers in Psychology. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02711/abstract