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Six things we learned about the psychological impact of being a Facebook addict

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We’ve been uploading our photos, emotions and events big or small to Facebook since 2007. Offering ourselves up for Likes and comments from our networks of friends - both genuine and online-only (remember when that wasn’t even a thing?).

FOMO (fear of missing out) has been well documented, but what else is being plugged into the lives of others 24/7 really doing to our psyche?

We've scoured the most recent research into long-term effects of the Facebook generation, and in particular, people who are addicted to the eponymous social forum. We know we'll still be tuning in every day - but this is an apt reminder to take a step back when we next lose half a weekend to our news feed...


It might be a trigger for depression

Woman holding sad face balloon

If you’re prone to depression, approach Facebook with caution warns a study carried out by researchers at the University of Houston. FOMO is one thing, but continued life comparison, whether you’re doing it consciously or not, can have a far more negative impact on your mental health.

‘The more time you spend on Facebook, the more likely it is for you to feel depressive symptoms,’ says Mai-Ly Steers, PhD candidate in social psychology and the lead author of the study.

‘The underlying mechanism is social comparison. So essentially the reason you feel these feelings is that you tend to socially compare yourself to your friends.’

Steers’ study isn’t the only one to conclude this theory, so if you start to feel envious of other people’s status updates, check out of Facebook and plug back into reality.


It could lower your IQ

Questions written on blackboard

According to a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface , increased connectivity on social media may reduce your analytical skills.

'[Social media] may very well decrease the frequency of analytical reasoning by making it easy and commonplace for people to reach an analytical response without engaging analytical processing,’ say the team behind the research.

In an experiment, they  found that users of social media can become so reliant on information and opinions shared on sites such as Facebook, that when we’re forced to arrive at an analytical decision ourselves, we may be less capable of doing so.


It may make you homesick

Woman using phone on a beach

If you’ve recently moved away, gone travelling or are just away from home on a trip or holiday, checking your Facebook could apparently intensify feelings of homesickness.

According to Dr Miranda van Tilburg, editor of Psychological Aspects of Geographical Moves, when away from home you should limit the amount of time you spend checking social media, to curb any pangs for the familiar.

‘[Do] not check in with your Facebook or Instagram at all times of the day because you will be constantly reminded of home,’ she advises. Instead, if you must check your Facebook while away, Dr van Tillburg suggests doing it once a day at a set time – over lunch for example – when you’re less likely to long for home.


It could set off fake food cravings

Cake with daisy and icing sugar

We’re all familiar with the barrage of food porn on social media, and most of us have probably added to the pool with our own shots of juicy burgers and deliciously drizzled cakes.

But, say experts, this kind of food imagery could set off cravings that are more about ‘food lust’ than real desire or need.

When our bodies crave a food, it’s normally a signal to the brain that we’re running low on a particular type of nutrient. Food porn however, taps into the old adage of our eyes being bigger than our bellies, and can even trigger comfort eating.

A 2012 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that as a result of looking at seductive food porn images, ‘people may overeat because of hyper-responsiveness’ to the tasty looking stimuli.


It may make you less thrifty

Piggy bank with money

According to research carried out by two marketing professors in America, the more time you spend on Facebook, the more money you’re likely to be frivolous with.

Prof Andrew Stephen from University of Pittsburgh and Keith Wilcox, from Columbia University, found that the ego boost users can get from Facebook – through a Like, positive comment or share for example – can momentarily lower self-control, and lead to indulgent behaviour.

‘People who use Facebook more tend to have a higher body-mass index (BMI), increased binge eating, carry more credit card debt and have lower credit scores,’ say the researchers.

They concluded that this ‘Facebook Effect’ is likely to be something which further develops over time, suggesting that the more you check in, the faster your hard-earned cash will check out.


It could mean you exercise less

Fitspo woman lifting dumbbell

If your Facebook feed is full of Fitspo (fitness inspiration) images, memes and videos, it might actually have the opposite effect on your brain and willingness to exercise.

Deeper research into the effectiveness of Fitspo is currently underway at the Flinders University School of Health Sciences in Australia, but preliminary findings suggest the motivational images actually leave us feeling negative, and in no mood to hit the gym.

‘Fitspirational messages feature overly sexualised women with bodies that the vast majority of women will never be able to obtain or maintain, making them feel bad when they don't match up to these ideals,’ says Dr Ivanka Prichard, leader of the research.

‘We suspect that viewing fitness pages will result in greater body dissatisfaction, mood disturbance and lower levels of exercise participation among young women due to the appearance-focused nature of these popular fitness images.'

Images: Thinkstock

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