Facebook's negative psychological effects

by Marc Wilson / 20 April, 2016
Like a mirror of the material world, the socially poor get poorer online.
Illustration/Chris Slane
Illustration/Chris Slane


If I had $1 for every time a ­journalist asked whether Facebook is a blight on civilisation, I’d have about $6.

Facebook is a big deal, judging by the research industry that has sprung up around it. Do Facebook profiles reflect how a person is, or how they’d like to be? What are the ­differences between Facebook and ­Myspace users? Does Facebook enhance or decrease self-esteem? Will Facebook ruin your grades? These are all examples of actual research.

It’s easy to see why – there are about 1.5 billion Facebook users, and more than two-thirds of New Zealanders who use the internet use Facebook daily. When I’m asked if social media sites are going to send us all to hell, my standard answer is something like, “Well, Facebook isn’t intrinsically good or bad – it’s how we use it that counts, and aren’t we really just using it to do things we’ve always done?

“And maybe it’s handy for people who wish they had more social interaction, or are prevented from socialising.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of this. Given that Facebook claims to help us “connect and share with the people” in our lives, does it actually help us make connections?

Samantha Stronge and other researchers (including me) involved with the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Survey (NZAVS) have been asking similar questions, and the results appear in the online New Zealand Journal of Psychology. We surveyed more than 6000 Kiwis about their online habits, personalities and things such as “belongingness”.

It turns out that younger women are New Zealand’s predominant Facebook users. Asian survey respondents were most likely to be on Facebook (78%), ­followed by Pasifika (66%) and Maori (60%), with Pakeha bringing up the rear (58%). Religious New Zealanders are less likely to use the social network and parents clearly don’t have the time to do so. Importantly, Facebook users on average felt more connected than non-users.

We know that extroverted, socially outgoing people tend to look for ways to connect with others, so it makes sense that they would see Facebook as something else to help themselves to from the social-interaction smorgasbord. Indeed, the NZAVS research confirms that.

But what about my top-of-the-head notion that Facebook has social ­benefits for people who, because they’re introverted, might want more social interaction but feel less comfortable pursuing it face-to-face? Sadly, the answer is that although Facebook and other social networking sites do bring people closer, they also provide a great way to show how others’ lives are more exciting and social than our own. Of course, people rarely post updates showing how they didn’t catch up with friends and have a great time, so there’s a certain bias in the type of information available.

Whether perception or reality, the data shows that extroverted Facebook users feel a smidgen more connected to others than extroverted non-users, but introverted users report the lowest feeling of ­belonging – the social rich get richer, but the poor get poorer, as the authors point out.

I mentioned I took part in this research. It’s a convention in the discipline of psychology to indicate who did the most work on a paper by putting their names first in the list of authors. My name is last on this particular one, which means I really need to give the credit to others. Or to click “like”.

Read more:

•  With new research showing bullying can actually change kids’ biology, it’s time for a fresh approach
•  Not when you're hangry: Your greedy brain cells can mean bad decisions when your blood-sugar level gets low
•  Break free from the anxiety trap


Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.

Latest

Writer Robert Macfarlane finds deeps truths in Underland
108287 2019-07-17 00:00:00Z Books

Writer Robert Macfarlane finds deeps truths in Und…

by Tony Murrow

In a new book, Robert Macfarlane heads underground to ponder mankind’s effect on the planet.

Read more
Why extra virgin olive oil is back on the menu for frying
108203 2019-07-17 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Why extra virgin olive oil is back on the menu for…

by Jennifer Bowden

For decades, the word in the kitchen has been that olive oil shouldn’t be used for frying, but new research could change that.

Read more
Abstract artist Gretchen Albrecht's true colours
108108 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Abstract artist Gretchen Albrecht's true colours

by Linda Herrick

Gretchen Albrecht paintings may be intangible, but they are triggered by real-life experience, she tells Linda Herrick.

Read more
That's a Bit Racist is playful, but it packs a punch
108435 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Television

That's a Bit Racist is playful, but it packs a pun…

by Diana Wichtel

The taboo-busting doco is trying to change our default settings on race, but some people aren't stoked.

Read more
Are there too many tourists in NZ?
108444 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Are there too many tourists in NZ?

by North & South

Here's what's inside North and South's August 2019 issue.

Read more
Huawei's dogged determination: Can it make a breakthrough in New Zealand?
108428 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Tech

Huawei's dogged determination: Can it make a break…

by Peter Griffin

The tech company at the centre of a trade war between the US and China is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to prove it can be trusted.

Read more
The many miracles of Aretha Franklin movie Amazing Grace
108368 2019-07-15 00:00:00Z Movies

The many miracles of Aretha Franklin movie Amazing…

by Russell Baillie

A long-lost concert movie capturing Lady Soul in her prime is heading to the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Read more
The untold history of China's one child policy
108182 2019-07-14 00:00:00Z History

The untold history of China's one child policy

by RNZ

Nanfu Wang explains the story behind her film One Child Nation, which screens at the International Film Festival this July.

Read more