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New study: Facebook break is good for your health

December 22, 2016

A scientific study by the University of Copenhagen has found that using Facebook less leads to a decrease in worry and sadness. The researchers encouraged active over passive use of social media to boost mental health.

Facebook Symbol
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/M. Rourke

"Social media is a nonstop 'great news' channel. A constant flow of edited lives which distorts our perception of reality," says a new study published by the Happiness Research Institute at the University of Copenhagen on Thursday. The report found not only that less time spent on Facebook led to increased well-being and less stress, but that there was a significant difference between "passive" and "active" users of social media.

The study, authored by Morten Tromholt, used 1,095 who were active users of Facebook and asked half of them to abstain from the platform for a week.

"After one week without Facebook, the treatment group reported a significant higher level of life satisfaction," said the report in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. Tromholt found that those who stayed away from Facebook felt less angry, sad or lonely. They were also more decisive in their everyday lives and could concentrate better on other tasks. These participants also experienced an increase in "real world" social activity.

Social comparison versus active engagement

Part of the problem, Tromholt wrote, is the tendency to compare oneself to one's social circle on a platform where most people only post the best and most interesting sides of their lives. Facebook created unhealthy patterns of envy, the study found. One out of three people envy the apparent happiness of others they see on the platform, while four out of 10 people envy others' success.

"Instead of focusing on what we actually need, we have an unfortunate tendency to focus on what other people have," the report said.

Brenda Wiederhold, the editor-in-chief of journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, warned that Facebook should not be categorized as wholly negative for one's well-being. It depends on how one uses its services, she said, as there was a difference between passive "lurking" and active engagement with a person's loved ones.

"This study found that 'lurking' on Facebook may cause negative emotions…however, on the bright side, previous studies have shown actively connecting with close friends, whether in real life or on Facebook, may actually increase one's sense of wellbeing."

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.