Sadness Derived From Passive Use of Facebook


Some researchers have discovered that Facebook makes users sad, while the results of other studies showed opposite findings. The debate has gone on for awhile. Ethan Kross, the psychologist who led a study that was released in August 2013, improved upon the previous studies that had only used cross-sectional data. Previous studies had only given researchers a snapshot of a subject’s mood. Kross wanted to examine a progression of moods over a period of time. As time went on, he found that passive users of Facebook were the ones who became sad. However, first, Kross had to cause an internet frenzy.

The research was conducted at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Kross and his associates surveyed the subjects well-being for two weeks, five times a day. They came to the conclusion that with greater use of Facebook, an individual becomes sadder.

The study went viral, much to Facebook’s chagrin. Though it was one of the most blogged about, tweeted and cited research papers in 2013, it still lacked vital answers. No indicators were offered as to what exactly it is about Facebook that causes users to become negatively effected.

Therefore, Kross went back to the lab, collaborated with other researchers and began the work of deciphering the Facebook conundrum. This time, instead of simply surveying the subjects, their sense of well-being and usage of Facebook, Kross and his colleagues attempted a sort of intervention. They asked the volunteers to use Facebook in very specific ways in the lab setting. The website offers a wide variety of activities. In one visit, a user can update their status, browse pictures, share links to other pages, sign petitions, as well as, interact with friends and family through comments, messages and IM.

In San Francisco last week, Kross gave a sneak preview of the results to attendees of an annual gathering of the Association for Psychological Science. Researchers found that active users of Facebook did not experience negative effects to their mood. By involving themselves in ongoing conversations, sharing their lives, no matter how mundane and reaching out through either private messages or IM, the moods of the subjects remained the same. The sad feelings came for the volunteers who were asked to use Facebook in a passive manner. By simply reading the interactions of others, browsing all the photos of goofy kids and delicious meals and contributing nothing, the subjects were negatively impacted.

The psychologists discussed the possible causes of this difference. One idea was that when people post on Facebook, it is usually good news, happy moments or cherished memories. There is often an idealization stamp placed on the information. If in the users life things are not happening the way they would like, just watching all those happy times compiled onto one long scrolling page can be toxic.

A clinical psychologist, Megan Moreno, works at Seattle Children’s Hospital and uses data regarding Facebook for studying the well-being and health of adolescents. She is thankful for the work Kross and his associates have done. She says that there needs to be more of these kinds of studies conducted. Moreno already has a suggestion for the next study – looking into how the negative impact of passively using Facebook may help in tracking signs of depression.

The passive use of Facebook and becoming saddened by it, serves as a microcosm for life. It has already been shown that passively going through life, not contributing, participating and interacting can cause deep depression. It stands to reason that the case would be the same for a social networking site like Facebook.

By Stacy Lamy

Psychological Science

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