The surprising side-effect of spending just 5 minutes on Facebook

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Nicola Rachel Colyer
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Our love-hate relationship with Facebook is a well-documented affair, as have been the many negative effects of using the social networking site over recent years.

Spending your commute scrolling through the highlight reel of your friends and old acquaintances has long been proven to have a detrimental impact on your health and happiness, from triggering depression to causing overeating and creating feelings of homesickness.

Nevertheless, we still can’t get enough. And it might not actually be a bad thing.

A new study – conducted by the University of Derby – has found that spending just five minutes on the social platform can have an uplifting impact on our wellbeing.

Dr Zaheer Hussain, a lecturer in Psychology, sought to investigate the connection between the regular use of Facebook and high levels of stress and low levels of self-esteem. In particular, the study examined whether narcissism, stress and self-esteem could predict the intensity of Facebook use, and whether a short session on Facebook could produce immediate psychological effects.

The researchers asked 163 Facebook users to complete an online survey, before engaging in a short Facebook session. This was then followed up with another online survey.

The results showed that narcissism, stress and self-esteem did significantly predict the intensity of Facebook use among participants, with stress being the most significant factor.

Which basically boils down to this: the more stressed we are, the more likely we are to turn to Facebook for relief.

While previous studies have indicated that such reliance on Facebook is only likely to increase those negative emotions, Dr Hussain found that a short session can actually lead to a boost in self-esteem. 

As Dr Hussain explains, “users who browsed their close friends, chatted with them, or viewed positive content on social networking sites would display a momentary increase in self-esteem.” 

So, it seems that the way in which we engage with the platform has a key role to play in whether or not we experience a positive effect when using the site.

Researchers at the University of Missouri certainly found this to be the case; a group of psychologists discovered that the way in which we engage when using Facebook determines whether or not we experience a positive impact from doing so. When participants were actively engaged with Facebook, they experienced a notable increase in happiness but when the participants were passively browsing, the positive effect disappeared.

What’s more, our initial emotional status has been shown to have a direct link to the impact of our Facebook use. Researchers at Cornell University found that an increase in self-esteem as the result of receiving positive feedback such as ‘likes’ was dependent on the user’s sense of purpose. Those with a higher sense of purpose were less likely to experience an increase in self-esteem from such interaction than those with a low sense of purpose, which may suggest that the positive impacts on self-esteem apply more to those who seek comfort from the platform in the first place.

And it’s not just our own actions that determine how we feel after a Facebook session. A 2014 study found that emotions expressed by others on Facebook have a direct impact on our own moods, i.e. the more positive our feed the happier we will feel when using the site, and vice versa. So those of us following more Moaning Myrtles than Luna Lovegoods might not have such an uplifting experience.

Image: iStock





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Nicola Rachel Colyer

Nicola Colyer is a freelance writer and ex-corporate girl. A francophile and relapsing sugar-free graduate, she'll often be found seeking out the best places for brunch or struggling to choose between a green juice and a G&T.