PsychPowerGod: Is Facebook Bumming Us Out?

From taking exams to taking shots, from attending section to having sexction, from smoking Buddha to learning about Buddha, college is defined by a variety of experiences. Whether you know it or not, all of these experiences affect your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This new series hopes to explore and discuss the psychology behind phenomena you might otherwise overlook. Item one on the menu is the depressive nature of Facebook:

Let’s be real. When was the last time you were stalking that person’s Facebook whom you secretly admire (be patient, Valentines Day is near!) and found yourself thinking, “Wow. This person has a lot of friends and seems to be having an inordinate amount of fun in every one of his/her photos.”

According to a recent article in Slate Magazine, Facebook may be, in fact, making us feel crummy. And seeing as depression is on the rise in college students, is it possible that Facebook is to blame?

A Stanford University study found that subjects “consistently underestimated how dejected others were” and ended up feeling lousier themselves. By seeing photos of friends in their happiest and liveliest moments and by reading their bubbly status updates, subjects repeatedly overestimated their friends’ happiness.

The conclusions of the study seem to ring true. People, on their Facebook profiles, tend to depict their coolest selves—their best attributes and most attractive pictures (i.e. their metaphoric money beets).

One teenager explained to MIT professor Sherry Turkle that Facebook is “like being in a play. You make a character.” Turkle, in her new book Alone Together, explains the constant need for teenagers to tweak their profiles to be portrayed as cool as possible (a phenomenon she dubs “presentation anxiety”).

While it may seem that staying in the proverbial loop is essential for social success, perhaps abusing Facebook is achieving just the opposite. Humans desire not only to be happy, but also to be happier than those around them. This is especially hard since we largely believe others are happier than they actually are. The result is a deluded, lonely, and low-spirited Facebook community.

So the next time you are perusing your pal’s peppy profile pictures, perk up and remember: they probably feel as worthless and lonely as you do!

1 Comment

  1. over9000

    Really interesting piece! Personally, though – and this isn’t a really big deal – I disagree with your contention that people desire to be “happier than those around them”. I mean, sure, I don’t want to be SADDER than everyone else, but I feel guilty when I’m happier than others! Like, who am I to enjoy life when others deserve to just as much?

    But yeah, great post. I think I’m pretty good at adjusting for the, you know, exhibitionism of Facebook, but it’s reassuring to know that that’s actually… a thing.

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