The Facebook Experiment

I think I speak for the majority of us in the class when I say that I spend a great deal of time using social media. In the United States, the average individual spends 40 minutes per day on just Facebook alone. This is greater than 20% of the average total time individual spends on the internet per day. This inevitably leads to the question: how does this time spent on Facebook affect our well-being?

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Lucky for us, we have an answer to this. Even a scientifically conclusive one. In 2015, Morten Tromholt of the department of sociology at the University of Copenhagen set out to answer this question by conducting a study he called “The Facebook Experiment”. To determine the effect Facebook use has on well-being, he randomly selected a group of 1,095 participants. From there he divided them into two separate groups; a treatment and control group. The treatment group entirely gave up Facebook use for the week, while the control group continued to use Facebook how they normally did in their daily lives. Tromholt sought to measure their well-being both before and after the experiment by having the individuals evaluate aspects of their lives such as mood, ability to concentrate, level of worry, and level of satisfaction with their social life.

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While I expected the results of this study to show that the group giving up Facebook had increased well-being, I was more than surprised to see just how large that increase was. After the experiment, the treatment group reported that their lives improved among multiple aspects: more positive emotions, increased levels of in-person social activities, increased life satisfaction, increased productivity, and higher ability to concentrate. These individuals were 18% more likely to feel present in the current moment they were living in. Conversely, those in the control group who continued their normal Facebook habits were 55% more likely to be stressed. The study took this a step further by showing that these effects are correlated to how attached one is to their Facebook, specifically that the effects are much greater for heavy Facebook users, passive Facebook users, and users who tend to envy others on Facebook.

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My Thoughts

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I believe this study has merit due to the fact that it proves and quantifies the negative impact social media, particularly Facebook, has on our happiness and life satisfaction. This is a widely known phenomenon, and one we have discussed in class, but I had personally never seen the science that proves it.  However, I still have lingering questions when it comes to the results…

1). My first question is whether abstaining from Facebook use would lead to the same positive results for individuals of all ages, and if so whether they would be to the same degree. It has been my experience, and one I have noted in others, that during the time I used Facebook during my adolescence, I was much more concerned about how the content I was posting would be viewed by my peers and about staying informed about everything my peers were doing. As a result of this, I believe giving up Facebook for a week during my teenage years would have caused me to stress more rather than benefit from the social media cleanse.

2). My second question is if these well-being benefits individuals receive from giving up Facebook for a week would hold true if they were to remain off Facebook for an extended period of time?

3). My third question regarding these results is whether cutting down on time spent on Facebook would allow individuals to receive some of these benefits (assumably to a lesser degree)? or is a full “cleanse” necessary to gain any benefits?

Conclusion

After seeing the results of this study, I am going to make it a priority of mine to cut down on the amount of time I spend on social media in hopes of receiving at least some of the benefits the individuals participating in the “Facebook Experiment” gained. I believe this is a more realistic goal for myself than giving up Facebook entirely for a week, and by approaching it this way I will be able to continue the practice over a longer period of time. Hopefully, this will help me answer my third question regarding the study’s results and who knows.. if it doesn’t seem to be working maybe a true “Facebook cleanse” would be good for me.

Your Thoughts (please)

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I’m interested in hearing what you guys think regarding this! Do you believe the results? Are you persuaded to give up Facebook (and/or other platforms) to receive similar benefits? Has anyone ever participated in a similar “social media cleanse” (I’ve heard of a lot of people doing this for lent), if so what was your experience like?

 

(For those who are interested see here for the link to the entire University of Copenhagen study: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/cyber.2016.0259?journalCode=cyber)

 

 

 

11 comments

  1. I love and I hate this post because it’s super interesting but it makes a great point that I don’t want to admit since social media is a big part of my life now (and I use it for my business). I have the same questions as you about this study, especially in regards to increasing the duration of the study. Aside from the duration of the study, I also wonder if the results would change if the study began a few years as social media and the digital world continue to become harder and harder to ignore.
    Another thing I would mention is that for every risk there are also benefits- otherwise why would we all be on social media so much? For example, I read a study recently about how Facebook increases self-esteem (http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/social.media/03/01/facebook.self.esteem/), and another one that says Facebook can help strengthen friendships and overcome isolation or shyness. So maybe there’s some hope for the good things!
    Great post- thanks for sharing it!

  2. fayehubregsen · ·

    Such a interesting look into Facebook’s effect on overall well-being. I completely agree that “everything in moderation” applies to this issue at hand, but like @studentkatieh , have noticed that the results on self esteem and Facebook are mixed. In the future, I would love to see a study that compares the different effects generated by the most frequently visited social media platforms since they each offer different uses. For example, in comparison to Instagram and Snapchat, I might venture a guess that Facebook effects users less severely than the superficial or fomo-generating aspects of perfectly curated Instagram posts and moment-by-moment snapchats.

  3. Great post. I find myself becoming frustrated when I realize I just spent the last thirty minutes on social media really doing nothing social but browsing. I do use Snapchat a lot and I find myself using it mainly as a communication platform. So my use of that doesn’t really bother me. However, when I use Facebook I am using it more as a distraction and I think that’s a real problem. I’m not sure if it induces more stress but it definitely has the power to change my motivation and is really time consuming. I think going forward as we all graduate I really don’t want to use Facebook much at all. I think I might delete the app and keep my use of it confined to its web based platform.

  4. CarbNatalie · ·

    This post was extremely relatable. I completely agree with the results of the study, and I myself take breaks from Facebook from time to time because it becomes overwhelming and I just don’t like to deal with the stress that comes attached to it. And mostly it is a big waste of time because I don’t even see my friends’ posts or current happenings, all I see are tasty videos (not sure why, still trying to figure out how to block them; if anyone knows how please help). I think that inclusive of the stress is not only the social pressure of keeping the status quo but the pressure be attached and in the know. Taking a break is definitely the best option if feeling overwhelmed.

  5. Such an interesting post about the Facebook Experiment! I also have similar questions like yours, and I personally think one week is really not enough time to determine long-term results. I would be interested to see the results after even a month or year and how they compare. I also agree with you that it’s easier and more realistic to cut down on social media rather than cut it out from your life completely. Finally, I’m also curious to know which social media platforms today have similar results to Facebook and if it can be applied to all types of social media. Does limiting time on Facebook but not Instagram reveal the same well-being results?

  6. ghakimeh · ·

    I was really hoping that the conclusions would be different!! I think it does make sense to a certain extent as people tend to post the marvelous things in their lives so it’s very easy to feel like one is missing out. I do think though that even regardless of if social media is used or not, I feel like the age group might play a larger impact as those who are in their 20’s and 30’s tend to be doing very exciting things and are in “the prime of their lives” so social media users can have a sense of FOMO based on what they see on social media. However, I do feel like for an extended period of time, these sort of events could trickle out to that person via other methods of communication. But at the end of the day, I do agree that there is a sense of peace and a decrease in anxiety when I decrease my social media uses and I do feel like it could decrease distraction and increase by ability to “be in the moment”

  7. Great post, and especially relevant to me today. I went to jog part of the marathon course and took a picture on the finish line with the finish sign/background, and wrote two more days to the marathon. I’m not planning on running the marathon (just raced a 10km last weekend and running the steeplechase next weekend), but have now wasted at least 2 hours of my time since I got back and have gotten myself very distracted, constantly responding to friends – “no, I’m not racing the marathon,” and still getting crazy amount of notifications from people wishing me good luck. So yes, I have definitely being wasting time on this platform, and I can definitely relate to these results of the experiment. I don’t use Snapchat, and am pretty much active on FB only (perhaps a little bit on Instagram as well). I wonder as Nicole said, what would the results of this experiment look like in giving up FB for a longer period of time. I feel as though I could use a bit of a FB cleanse, especially after today.

  8. DanKaplan · ·

    Really great job on this post Lauren. This is a question that is on a lot of our minds and I had never heard of this study prior to your post. Going forward, I also will be making a stronger effort to use Facebook less and less. The problem, which I am sure many can relate to is that when you are in high school or college, using Facebook allows you to be in the loop to know what is going on around you. Whether these are updates on a friend’s life or events that you are being invited to, it allows you to be organized in one centralized location and you never have to worry about forgetting about a certain event because all the information is online. I hope that after college is over, I find better, more creative ways to use my phone as opposed to scrolling up and down on social media checking to see what people around me, some of whom I do not even know that well are up to.

  9. ItsUlker · ·

    Excellent post raising some important issues! I think SM in general can cause all these worrisome feelings and negative effects on our well-being, no matter if it is Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter – it really just depends on which platform(s) you use the most to be “social”. Your post made me realize two things: 1) I have really cut down on my use of Facebook over the years, and 2) I have replaced heavy use of Facebook with the heavy use of Instagram and Snapchat (although to a lesser degree). To be honest, I am not shocked by the results of the study and I feel like giving up my main “addictions” would help me as well – to be less distracted and more productive in the very least. However, while I could give up Facebook, I would have to think twice before giving up Instagram because of major FOMO. I hope when the day comes for me to really cut down (I don’t think it has been a problem so far), I would be able to do it too.

  10. Great post. I do think there is likely a middle ground of being less on social media providing the necessary benefits. I think the danger of Facebook is that its so easy and it becomes out default activity when we have spare time, instead of doing something more productive.

  11. mikeward7 · ·

    This is an awesome post! It’s not surprising that a study would show that people who didnt use facebook for a week exhibited much better moods and had better social interactions with people in person. I feel like people being connected to each other on the internet via social media makes them feel like theyre having interactions with others so by taking that away you would desire more in person interactions.

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