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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Researchers find Facebook lowers confidence, self-image among users

As far as many of her friends are concerned, Luz Argueta-Vogel, a psychology senior, does not exist.

At least not online.

A Facebook search of Argueta-Vogel’s name yields no results. This is because she deactivated her account two months ago, and since then has been escaping the grasps of social media.

“I thought it was going to be a little more difficult getting used to not having a Facebook than it was,” Argueta-Vogel said when recounting her decision to deactivate her account. “I was starting to get anxiety thinking about Facebook when I wasn’t even using it, so when I deactivated it, I kind of felt relieved.”

When it comes to feeling anxious online, Argueta-Vogel is not alone. New research indicates that people who spend more time on social networking sites are more likely to develop feelings of self-doubt. In a study conducted by Utah Valley University, researchers found the more time students spent on Facebook, the easier it was for them to believe their friends were happier than they were and less inclined to agree with the statement that “life is fair.”

“When you use Facebook, you end up finding how easy it is to take up your time looking at people’s profiles and their history that can go back for years,” Argueta-Vogel said. “I can understand how people can get this feeling of not being good enough when it doesn’t seem like anyone else out there is having trouble and are posting happy information about themselves online.”

Social depression

This type of behavior on the Internet has been coined “Facebook Depression” by researchers from a similar social networking study that was conducted to observe teens’ social media behavior. Both studies looked into the idea that self validation can be greatly diminished once people start comparing themselves to a friend they have online.

“Facebook is kind of like being at a bar,” Argueta-Vogel said. “All of your friends are in that bar and you start to get overwhelmed. So when I deactivated my account it was like taking a break and going outside to get fresh air, knowing that if I wanted to go back my friends would be there, still doing the same things.”

Laura Orlich, a certified counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services, said over the years more patients have been coming into her office concerned about the things they saw on Facebook. She said before social media, there was really no way for people to compare their feelings of self-worth and validation with others on the Internet.

“An example of this would be when you give a person your phone number and they don’t call,” Orlich said. “You can just assume that maybe they lost it, or they misplaced their phone, or got run over by a truck. But on Facebook if you attempt to friend someone and they ignore it, there is really no explanation other than they just chose not to respond.”

Orlich said one of the reasons Facebook could lead users to feel depressed or anxious is because its dominant presence in the online social sphere can be addictive. In a study conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Facebook use was found to be more addictive than alcohol or smoking. Participants felt that because Facebook has easy access and is free to use, there was no reason not to give into the impulse and check their account.

“Some students sometimes say that Facebook has near-addictive qualities and they can’t seem to stay away and find themselves looking up a person or stalking someone,” Orlich said. “It has a very compelling quality to it.”

Social enlightenment

While some research suggests people should try to limit their time on Facebook, some think there are beneficial aspects to the website. Matthias Mehl, an associate professor in the psychology department, said some of the things these studies lack is the observation of a person’s behavior if asked to change their Facebooking patterns.

“All of these studies look into the number of friends people have and the time they spend on Facebook and correlate that to depression,” Mehl said. “None of the studies are experimental, meaning nothing changes in the way a person might use Facebook, so you don’t get to look into their reaction or if a person’s behavior changes.”

In a study Mehl helped contribute to, which was conducted at the UA and is in the publishing process, researchers divided participants into two groups. The first group was asked to continue using Facebook like they normally did and the second group was told to use Facebook more than usual for a week. This meant creating status updates on a daily basis and making an effort to communicate frequently with friends and family on Facebook.

By the end of the experiment, researchers were able to determine the more that people actively used Facebook, the more secure they felt about themselves and the relationships they have with people who were close to them.

“Participants who followed the instructions to blog more were found to be less lonely, not more lonely,” Mehl said. “We also asked them how socially connected they felt to their friends and saw participants took into account the time they spent on Facebook to answer the question. So this is one study that would suggest the opposite of what is currently being presented.”

Mehl said one of the things that trigger the way we feel about Facebook is how it is used. If a person is passive user, meaning they log onto Facebook with the intent to look at what other people are doing, then they could be more likely to develop feelings of depression and loneliness. If a person is an active user and makes the effort to communicate with others online, they are found to be happy with the relationship they have with friends online.

“With these findings, I think that it surprised people because there is this negative notion that Facebook can drive you to social alienation,” Mehl said. “It’s not that Facebook makes you depressed but that Facebook is a tool of social interaction.”

Despite this, Argueta-Vogel is still unsure whether she will return to Facebook. While she enjoys her new freedom away from the site, she does recognize Facebook as service that allows her to stay in touch with people.

“People do change their minds about deactivating their accounts, I have people who have deleted it for a few days or a couple of weeks and then come back,” Argueta-Vogel said. “They always come back.”

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