Next time you’re in a bad mood, resist the urge to try and cheer yourself up by checking Facebook. It likely won’t work, according to a recent study.
Two behavioral researchers have confirmed what anyone who has ever Facebook-stalked someone at 1 a.m. already knows: The longer you're on Facebook, the worse you feel.
The reason? Even more than other areas of the Internet, Facebook makes you feel like you're wasting your life.
“It appears that, compared to browsing the Internet, Facebook is judged as less meaningful, less useful, and more of a waste of time, which then leads to a decrease in mood,” write co-authors Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitemeyer of the University of Innsbruck in Austria. Their research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Computers in Human Behavior.
This new research contrasts with Facebook’s own recent study on the power of the site to manipulate moods. Facebook found that while the site has the capability to worsen one's mood, it can also improve it, assuming people aren't shown negative posts.
The Austrian researchers instead found people feel crummy any time they're on Facebook for too long, no matter what kind of stuff pops up.
In one experiment, the researchers asked participants to indicate how much time they’d spent on Facebook that day and then rate their mood.
A second study, with different participants, asked one group of people to 20 minutes on Facebook -- posting status updates, chatting with friends and scanning their News Feeds -- while another group spent 20 minutes browsing the Internet without visiting any social media sites. A third control group was given no instructions at all. Afterwards, everyone was asked how they felt and how "meaningful" they found their time spent online.
Both studies, which involved more than 300 English- and German-speaking participants, found the same thing: People felt worse after using Facebook, because they believed they weren't using their time meaningfully. In other words:
“The meaningfulness actually accounts for the mood effects,” Sagioglou told The Huffington Post over the phone. “It’s not surprising that if you do something you don’t consider very meaningful, you’re not in a good mood afterward.”
So if Facebook makes us feel worse, why do we keep using it?
Because people continue to make what's called an “affective forecasting error," according to a third experiment from the study. Participants assumed they would feel better after spending 20 minutes on Facebook, even though the opposite ended up being true. We do it all the time.
But not all of Facebook makes us feel useless. In a separate set of experiments, not yet published, Sagioglou and Greitemeyer found that chatting with friends or using the social network to make plans actually makes people feel better afterward.
Remember that next time you find yourself falling down the Facebook rabbit hole.