Is social media really bad for your health? Dr Zaheer Hussain, Lecturer in Psychology, discusses new research which reveals that Facebook use can increase levels of self-esteem.
The availability of the internet and the devices in which to access it – gaming consoles, smartphones and tablets – have grown rapidly in the last decade.
In 1995, less than 1% of the world population had internet access. Since then, this figure has increased tenfold, equating to more than three billion internet users worldwide.
Statistics for internet access in Great Britain show figures for adult internet users accessing the internet every, or almost every, day has more than doubled since 2006 – from 16.2 million to 39.3 million – that’s 78% of the adult population.
To add to this, 61% of adults use some form of social networking site and 79% of these do so every or almost every day.
Founded in 2004, Facebook is the most popular social networking site that can be accessed through multiple devices, including PC’s, tablets, gaming consoles and smartphone.
Since December 2015, Facebook has reported 1.04 billion daily users and 1.59 billion monthly users worldwide.
Facebook’s goal is to give people the power to share and make the world more connected. This is done by creating an online profile, sending messages, finding other Facebook users, sharing videos, pictures, and status updates anywhere in the world.
In 2015, I co-authored the UK’s first research study into smartphone addiction and its related psychological characteristics, which found the more you use a smartphone, the higher the risk of becoming addicted and that high vanity and narcissism scores were linked to smartphone addiction.
The research revealed that 13.3% of smartphone users were classed as addicted and 87% reported using social networking sites most frequently, some described Facebook as ‘addictive’ and stated logging in to Facebook was the first thing they did in the morning and the last thing they did at night. This suggests that addiction may not necessarily be to the smartphone itself but more to the Facebook application – the device is merely a convenient gateway to access it.
In previous research, intensive Facebook use has been linked to detrimental effects on mental health such as disordered eating and depression as well as being linked to isolation, skipping meals, headaches, and eye irritation.
Previous research has predominantly investigated narcissism, self-esteem, and stress as predictors for Facebook usage as standalone measures. However, no research has investigated the possibility of all three measures combined being predictors of Facebook usage.
Therefore, I, along with my colleague Adam O’Sullivan, examined whether narcissism (vanity), stress and self-esteem could predict Facebook intensity, and whether a short session on Facebook could produce immediate psychological effects.
Our study set out to fill this gap by investigating how narcissism, self-esteem, and stress affect Facebook intensity usage.
A sample of 163 Facebook users completed an online survey, engaged in a short Facebook session, and then completed another online survey. We surveyed 163 people with active Facebook accounts – 43 males and 120 females – majority aged between 18-24.
The study revealed that narcissism, stress, and self-esteem were found to significantly predict Facebook intensity with stress being a significant predictor within the model. The survey found that the higher levels of perceived stress a person is subjected to, the more intense their Facebook use is.
The results showed that there was an increase in self-esteem scores. From the initial scores reported (mean= 17.85) to the scores reported after the Facebook session (mean = 18.63) this was found to be significant. There was a slight decrease in stress and narcissism levels after the Facebook session but these were not statistically significant changes.
A five-minute Facebook session can immediately result in increased levels of self-esteem. This may be because users who browsed their close friends, chatted with them, or viewed positive content on social networking sites would display a momentary increase in self-esteem.
The study also found that the higher the levels of perceived stress in an individual resulted in an increased use of Facebook to find social support.
Facebook and other social networking sites are now important mediums of online communication. The study showed that narcissism, stress and self-esteem are significant predictors of Facebook intensity usage and that a short Facebook session can increase self-esteem. The findings may help in the development of prevention programmes for users who experience problems with their social networking site use.
To read the full research paper, click here.