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Study: Your Accomplished Friends on Facebook Could Be Making You Feel Depressed

Alyssa Bereznak
National Correspondent, Technology
Yahoo Tech

(Via Thinkstock)

Your stealthy Facebook surveillance might be the reason you’re so sad all the time.

According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri, forms of Facebook use that trigger feelings of envy may lead to symptoms of depression.

“I heard frequently from my students that many people are getting to the point where they kind of hate Facebook, but they feel compelled to keep up with it,” Margaret Duffy, chair of strategic communication at the university’s journalism school, told Yahoo Tech. “They must present their best self on their Facebook profiles. This kind of keyed us in to the topic.”

Aided by former UM doctoral students Edson Tandoc and Patrick Ferrucci, the research team surveyed 736 college students between the ages of 18 and 26 about their Facebook habits. The study asked for basic information about the average student’s usage of the social network and included a number of questions based on the CESD scale (a well-known scale for measuring depression) and about checking on posts without interacting with them or posting themselves — so-called “surveillance use.”

The study also asked students to quantify their “Facebook envy” by rating how they related to the following statements on a five-point scale:

 “I generally feel inferior to others; it is so frustrating to see some people always having a good time; it somehow doesn’t seem fair that some people seem to have all the fun; I wish I could travel as much as some of my friends do; many of my friends have a better life than me; many of my friends are happier than me; my life is more fun than those of my friends.”

The results of the survey, published in the research journal Computers in Human Behavior, showed that, though using Facebook itself can’t cause depression, those who use it in a certain way may develop envy. That envy, according to a large amount of psychological research, could very well lead to depression. In other words, if your main mode is to surf the site and gawk at happy couples or awesome tropical cruises, that could very well lead to feelings of depression.

The study surveyed a generally equal number of men and women, but Duffy said different genders felt envy about different things. 

“Women felt that things like physical appearance were a greater issue than men did,” she said. “But success in relationships, or seeing that your friends are doing successful things that you feel you aren’t, had real effects for both genders.

Though Duffy warns that her study might not necessarily indicate Facebook is entirely detrimental, she does say it opens many questions about how our society has translated envy to the digital world.

“We don’t want to have knee-jerk reactions to people using different types of media in different ways,” she said. “Back in the olden days, people predicted that television would be the end of the world and children would be criminals. But it was really interesting to see that what is kind of known as a longstanding problem psychologically and socially — the issue of envy of other people — has translated itself in such an interesting and concerning way to social networks.”

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