Social media is changing almost every part of our lives - but scientists are still discovering how it affects us.
With more than two billion active monthly users, Facebook is the world’s most popular social media network.
But the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has caused many people to question the role Facebook plays in their lives.Concerns about their privacy, some people have deleted their accounts, sending Mark Zuckerberg’s company’s share price plummeting.
But could stepping away from social media be good for mental health and well-being?
Scientists from the University of Queensland and Australian Catholic University have explored the mental side effects of giving up Facebook in a study recently published in the Journal of Social Psychology, entitled 'The Burden of Online Friends'.
The experiment analysed 138 active Facebook users. Participants were separated into two groups, one of which was told to stay off Facebook for a week, while the other was instructed to continue as normal.
After a week, the scientists measured the concentration of stress hormone cortisol, as well as perceived stress and well-being. They also asked each participant a series of questions regarding mood, loneliness and life satisfaction.
The researchers concluded the following.
Relative to those in the Facebook Normal condition, those in the No Facebook condition experienced lower levels of cortisol and life satisfaction.
Our results suggest that the typical Facebook user may occasionally find the large amount of social information available taxing, and Facebook vacations could ameliorate this stress - at least in the short-term.
But after taking a five day break from Facebook, many participants were happy to return to it, even though using the social network caused stress. In other words, some individuals felt like they were “missing out”.
Lead author of the study Eric Vanman explained:
We don’t know long it takes to get this reduction in cortisol or when it would start to increase again before someone decided to get back on Facebook.
For example, it could be that being off Facebook for the first few days reduces stress, but, the longer one feels like he or she is missing out, cortisol starts to increase again.
Vanman and his colleagues suspect these effects are not unique to Facebook, but also assert that a much bigger study is needed.
In the meantime, short breaks from Facebook are advised.