Logging into Facebook Depression

 Too Many ‘Friends,’ Too Few ‘Likes’? Evolutionary Psychology and ‘Facebook Depression’

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 11.25.57 pmDepression 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.

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Reference:

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.

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Facebook envy: are our ‘friends’ making us depressed?

Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is facebooking depressing? By Edson C. Tandoc Jr., Patrick Ferrucci & Margaret Duffy

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With 1.393 billion monthly active users (Smith 2015), and an aim to “…give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” (Facebook, 2015), it would seem ridiculous for people to log on to a website that actually invoked feelings of depression. However, since significant academic discussion exists regarding the negative emotional impact of Facebook, it is interesting to consider the question, ‘does Facebook make people depressed?’ This idea has been explored in the research conducted by Edson C. Tandoc Jr., Patrick Ferrucci & Margaret Duffy in their 2015 research report, ‘Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is facebooking depressing?’ Tandoc is an Assistant Professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Ferrucci is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Bradley University and Duffy teaches courses in strategic communication, research methods and media management at the Missouri School of Journalism. All three authors are clearly highly qualified to write about this topic and each author has released other studies regarding similar topics.

The text attempts to find a link between Facebook use and depression among college students. It ‘uses the framework of social rank theory of depression and conceptualizes Facebook envy as a possible link between Facebook surveillance use and depression’ (Tandoc et al., 2015, p. 139). The authors undertook a survey of 736 college students and found that Facebook can trigger feelings of envy, which, in turn, may lead to feelings of depression. They found that college students who use Facebook heavily have higher levels of envy because they are exposed to a lot of personal information from their Facebook friends – friends who strive for a positive self-presentation by posting ‘successes, material goods, positive relationships, and other information that other users share on Facebook’ (Tandoc et al., 2015, p. 149). ‘Exposure to these pieces of positive information about others can lead to feelings of envy, as information consumers can feel subordinated to others who seem to publish positive experiences all the time. The irony, of course, is that users rarely post negative experiences, which might contradict the aim of positive self-presentation. Thus, when users feel envious constantly, they might develop depression symptoms over time.’ The authors’ findings were objectively backed up with reference to several other reports whilst also including references that opposed the authors’ hypothesis to provide a well-rounded, well-informed report.

Tandoc et al. carried out an online survey that collected information by asking people a number of questions and coding their responses in numerical form suitable for statistical analysis. Within their survey they controlled a number of variables such as Facebook use, envy and depression by defining and specifying the terms. To survey feelings of depression, the authors used the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, one of the most commonly used measures of depression. The scale consists of 20 items asking questions about symptoms associated with depression. The report is well set out with headings and subheadings so the chronological experimental procedure can be easily seen and understood, from hypothesis and method to results and conclusion.

Since Facebook is such a huge worldwide website, Tandoc et al.’s research into the possible negative mental impacts of Facebook use are of great significance to audiences globally – audiences such as academics and students undertaking study in the fields of psychology, behavioural sciences and media and communications, as well as users of Facebook and social media in general. As part of the intended audience, it is interesting to consciously consider whether something that I use every day is actually having a negative impact on my emotions. Additionally, Tandoc et al. suggest that the link between Facebook use and depression is only just starting to attract scholarly attention, but scholars still disagree on the nature of the relationship and so their research is important as it contributes to this growing area which could improve the lives of many people if there is, in fact, a link between Facebook and depression (p. 139).

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Reference:

Facebook 2015, Facebook company mission, Facebook, United States, viewed 19 March 2015, <https://www.facebook.com/FacebookAU/info?tab=page_info&gt>.

Smith, C 2015, How Many People Use 800+ of the Top Social Networks, Apps and Digital Services?, DMR Digital Marketing Ramblings, viewed 20 March 2015, <http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/resource-how-many-people-use-the-top-social-media/6/>.

Tandoc, EC, Ferruci, P & Duffy, M 2015, ‘Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is facebooking depressing?’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 43, pp. 139-146.