‘Satisfaction with life’ – what happens if we take a break from Facebook?

July 6, 2018 Richard Justenhoven

use of facebook and the impact on stress

Social media and the impact on our satisfaction with life

It’s that time of year when our social media feeds fill with photos of white beaches, adventurous hiking and exciting city breaks showing us the great holidays everyone else is having.

But what happens if we plan to take a break from social media as well as from the routine of our day-to-day life? How is our satisfaction with life?

A recent paper in the Journal of Social Psychology explored the psychological effects of taking time off from Facebook.

The research
The researchers led by Eric Vanman, University of Queensland, invited 138 active Facebook users to take part. They each completed several questionnaires; their Facebook usage, their satisfaction with life, their perceived stress, mood and loneliness – and gave a saliva cortisol sample as an indicator of physiological stress level.

The results showed that the more active Facebook users reported higher life-satisfaction and – less loneliness.

Then half of the participants were told that they were to take a five-day break from Facebook and all the participants then were asked to note down what they thought the following days would be like – and gave another saliva sample. Nearly all the participants in the Facebook-break group expected it to be a gloomy time. After five days, they all repeated the questionnaires, reported their social movements for one of the intervening days and provided a further saliva cortisol sample.

The expectation of a less-than-exciting time by the Facebook-break group was borne out; the Facebook-break group reported lower life satisfaction, – even though they reported extra face-to-face socialising time.

But the Facebook-break group did not, though, report a reduction in stress even though there was a reduction in the level of their stress hormone, cortisol. However, as the researchers point out, cortisol fluctuates making it difficult to interpret the meaning of this change.

So, it seems that taking a break from Facebook may not reduce stress per se but may decrease ‘life satisfaction’.

Of course, the reduction in cortisol may be the result of less internet time and more walking or chatting or other activity: we just don’t know. And another word of caution; it’s a small study – but the growth in social media use and the search for the managed stress life will no doubt prompt other studies.

Reference:
Eric J. Vanman, Rosemary Baker & Stephanie J. Tobin (2018) The burden of online friends: the effects of giving up Facebook on stress and well-being, The Journal of Social Psychology, 158:4, 496-507, DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2018.1453467

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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