The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Surrey and published in the journal Heliyon, sought to better understand how social comparison — sizing ourselves up against one another — affects our well-being, specifically on Facebook.
“More people are spending more time on Facebook and social comparisons are an inevitable part of the experience. It is important to be more aware of how this activity affects us, and how it may change how we feel about ourselves, given the strong link between well-being, quality of life, and physical health,” lead investigator, Dr. Bridget Dibb of the School of Psychology at University of Surrey, explained in a statement.
So Dibb and her colleagues recruited 165 participants and had them complete an electronic questionnaire, which included information on Facebook usage, social comparison, self-esteem, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction and physical health. They found that the more someone used Facebook, the sicker they felt.
“Participants who feel Facebook is an important part of their lives also report more symptoms,” Dibb said, “linking social comparison activity with the perception of worse physical health… [and while it is] unclear as to whether comparisons while using Facebook lead to a greater perception of physical symptoms or whether those who already experience physical symptoms tend to compare themselves more on Facebook,” there is a definitive link between the two.
“It is important to study this further,” Dibb added.
This is not the first study to analyze the impact of social media on our physical and/or emotional well-being. A 2017 study found Instagram had a negative impact on mental health and a 2016 study found social media made many sad, jealous and unhappy, and all platforms have addictive qualities.
That said, it isn’t all bad. Dibb noted we are “still learning about the positive and negative effects of social media use.” However, this study — and others like it — seem to suggest we should all unplug… at least every once in a while.