In the 80s, if you wanted to see your neighbours shiny new BMW, you had to pretend you were trimming the lavender hedge. Now evidence of his latest acquisition is for all to see on his Facebook wall.
You watched in envy as the youngest Petersen from across the road, carried beach umbrellas and beach bats to their car in preparation for their Natal South Coast holiday.
We still envy others. The scope is just considerable larger thanks to social media like Facebook. Sure, thirty years ago you knew what your neighbours were up to. But now you also know about your long lost cousin in Australia’s diving expedition on the Great Barrier Reef or your school friend’s apparently successful business – the same friend you haven’t seen in 20 years.
In 2013 Ethan Kross, a psychologist from the University of Michigan did research on a group of students and came to the conclusion that using Facebook made them alone and sad. Kross and his colleagues studied their subjects over two weeks and frequently asked them questions to establish their mental state. (Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults: Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, Lin N, et.al (2013))
Does this mean social media is inherently bad for us? Not entirely, but we need to be attentive as to how we use it and its effect on our lives.
As early as 1998 Robert Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University found that subjects became progressively more depressed and isolated when they spent more time on the internet. The cause for our addiction to social media lies in our innate social make-up. We want to make connections with other people, but inevitably we also end up compare our lives to theirs.
Sharing information activates the part of our brain associated with reward processing. Sharing with others is a normal, acceptable, social action, passively being exposed to a large amount of information about those we are connected to on social media, and would normally not even be aware of, is not. What we don’t realise is that this information has been carefully selected and posted to present the best possible image. It’s not a realistic representation of someone’s life.
According to Mai-Ly Steers’ article “Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms”, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, social comparison is nothing new. Social media’s arrival just intensified the phenomenon.
“It doesn’t mean Facebook causes depression, but that depressed feelings and lots of time on Facebook and comparing oneself to others tend to go hand in hand”, says Steers.
[SOURCES: www.livescience.com; www.sciencedaily.com; www.newyorker.com; http://blogs.plogs.org]