With Facebook use at 54 percent of users' time online globally and 62 percent of their time in the United States, you have to wonder what this is doing to our society. Is it making it better or worse?
“Does spending so many hours with a machine keep people from making real connections with other people?” “Or, does it allow people who are shy or socially awkward a chance to connect with others in a way that’s more comfortable for them than face-to-face communication?” -University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researcher Hayeon Song.
Song notes that when you converse online you are able reflect and think longer before saying something. This gives you a way to connect with others while feeling less anxiety.
The researchers focused on Facebook since it is by far the most popular online social media site. People are using it to share personal information, meet people and develop friendships, according to the study.
Anxiety, Shyness and Loneliness
While Internet use in general has been studied at length, not as much research has been done on the relatively newer trend of Facebook.
Song and her team collected and reviewed all the data published so far on the issue. They did this by searching through electronic databases for the keyword “Facebook,” along with other search terms such as anxiety, shyness, loneliness.
“Some researchers found a ‘positive’ relationship between Facebook use and loneliness and some people found the opposite,” Song says.
Meta-analysis results, based on all available published studies, showed that there is a relationship between Facebook use and loneliness.
They found that as loneliness increases, the time spent on Facebook increases. So what we can say, at least, is that Facebook does not help in reducing loneliness even if we feel more connected while using it, says Song.
Social Media Cause and Effect
The team also investigated the cause-and-effect relationship between loneliness and Facebook use.
“Does Facebook make people lonely or are lonely people more attracted to Facebook,” is what Song asked herself.
Research gave a clearer answer to this question.
“We found that loneliness caused Facebook use rather than the other way around,” Song says.
Non-lonely people use Facebook, but they also preserve rich personal communications and relationships without it, according to Song.
Compared to non-lonely people, lonely people spend more time on Facebook. Lonely individuals who are shy or have low social support may turn to Facebook to compensate for their lack of social skills and/or social networks in face-to-face settings, according to the study' findings.
“The interesting point of this study is that it both supports and corrects the original Internet paradox study (The “Internet Paradox,” done by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University), which is one of the most influential studies in Internet research. To the question of whether or not the Internet increases psychological dysfunction such as loneliness, the Internet paradox study suggested that Internet use has detrimental effects. Our study supports this in that Internet use is associated with loneliness. However, we found the previously suggested causal direction to be erroneous: lonely people spend more time on the Internet rather than Internet use making people lonely,” Song concluded.
More research on the subject is needed.
For example, do young people compensate for loneliness in the same way that older people do? Or do those who use Facebook obsessively respond differently than those who use it more casually?
The issues are not just Academic
Loneliness is linked to psychological and health issues such as depression.
In a 2010 study of 265 adults ages 19 to 85, University of Arizona researchers found that stress serves a crucial function for those who reported being lonely.
They observed that lonely people were prone to have fewer close connections. They also were less apt to manage daily stressors well and tended not to keep up on their health. Also, lonely people did not get adequate sleep.
“Facebook is so widespread, and it’s evolving. For some people, it is almost like an addiction because they become so deeply involved”, Song says. “That’s why it’s important to understand the causes and the long-term consequences of using social media."
Hayeon Song, Anne Zmyslinski-Seelig, Jinyoung Kim, Adam Drent, Angela Victor, Kikuko Omori, Mike Allen. Does Facebook make you lonely?: A meta analysis. Computers in Human Behavior, 2014; 36: 446 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.04.011
Borae Jin How lonely people use and perceive Facebook Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 29, Issue 6, Pages 2463-2470
Chris Segrin, Stacey Passalacqua. Functions of Loneliness, Social Support, Health Behaviors, and Stress in Association With Poor Health. Health Communication, 2010; 25 (4): 312 DOI: 10.1080/10410231003773334
Top Photo by Susan Sermoneta