Too Many ‘Friends,’ Too Few ‘Likes’? Evolutionary Psychology and ‘Facebook Depression’
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is estimated that in Australia, around 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime; in any one year, that’s around 1 million Australian adults suffering from depression (Beyond Blue 2015). Whilst there are many different types of depression, with symptoms ranging from minor to very severe, all forms are highly disabling and have an immeasurable impact on an individual’s life. Whilst depression itself has been researched for many, many years – new research has emerged alongside the growing popularity of Facebook: research regarding the link between depression and Facebook through harmful social comparisons. Dr Charlotte Rosalind Blease’s research article, ‘Too Many ‘Friends,’ Too Few ‘Likes’? Evolutionary Psychology and ‘Facebook Depression’, looks directly into this link to try to determine if Facebook can actually cause depression. Blease is completing her fellowship at the University College Dublin’s School of Philosophy. She has completed a PhD on philosophy of science and philosophy of mind, was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Mind, Brain and Cognitive Evolution in Germany and has also lectured in philosophy at Queen’s University, Belfast. She is clearly highly qualified to write on this subject, with a deep understanding of the science of psychology and depression.
Blease uses up-to-date and diverse sources to initially lay down an understanding of both depression and Facebook separately before moving on to “survey the problematic and conflicting results in the empirical literature on the causal link between the use of social networking sites and depression” (p. 2) by objectively providing other viewpoints in comparison with her own. She then continues to discuss how Facebook could possibly cause depression, before concluding with some directions for future research, highlighting that social psychology and evolutionary cognitive science need to be integrated in order to fully understand the connection between social media and depression.
Blease hypothesises, after extensive research, that “if mild depression is an adaptive functional response to perceptions of comparative low social value, Facebook may be a forum which abounds in triggering cues” (p. 7). She states that persistent exposure to ‘successful others’ – ‘friends’ who seem well-liked on Facebook through their profile images, galleries and status updates which are habitually intended to present themselves in the best possible light – may lead to negative self-appraisals, which in turn, could lead to symptoms of depression. Blease concludes through statistical evidence that Facebook users may be more susceptible to mild depressive symptoms when:
1. They have more online ‘friends’;
2. The greater the time spent reading updates from this wide pool of friends;
3. The more frequently the user reads these updates; and
4. The content of the updates tends to a bragging nature.
These findings might be of particular interest to academics and students working or studying in psychology, cognitive science or media and communications, as the report is quite scientific in nature, with an emphasis on the cognitive side of depression, rather than just Facebook use. From my perspective as a Facebook user, it is thought provoking to consider how what I post affects my ‘friends’ and vice versa. Blease’s well-structured, informative and interesting research article is a valuable contribution to the relatively new and rapidly expanding body of research regarding the cognitive effects that social media has on its users.
Beyond Blue, 2015, The Facts, Beyond Blue, viewed 10 April 2015, <http://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts>.
Blease, C. R. 2015, ‘Too many ‘friends,’ too few ‘likes’? Evolutionary psychology and ‘Facebook depression’’, Review of general psychology, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 1 – 1.