Facebook break can boost your wellbeing, study finds

New research suggests ‘lurkers’ could benefit from quitting the social network

Taking a break from Facebook can boost emotional wellbeing, a new study suggests. File photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Taking a break from Facebook can boost emotional wellbeing, a new study suggests. File photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire

 

Taking a break from Facebook can boost emotional wellbeing and life satisfaction, with the effects particularly pronounced among people who “lurk” on the social network without actively engaging with others, a study suggests.

The research, by the University of Copenhagen, showed the effects of quitting for a week were also strong among heavy users and those who envied their Facebook friends, suggesting people who pore irritably over the posts of others may benefit the most.

Report author Morten Tromholt, from the university’s sociology department, said the findings suggested that changes in behaviour - for example, heavy users reducing their time spent on Facebook, or lurkers actively engaging - could yield positive results.

However, he indicated that people could find it difficult to change their behaviour and so quitting may be necessary.

For example, 13 per cent of the study’s participants who were supposed to be taking a break from Facebook admitted to using the social network.

The study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, involved 1,095 people, 86 per cent of whom were women.

They were randomly assigned to two groups: one which continued using Facebook as normal and one which stopped using the social network for a week.

On average, the participants were aged 34, had 350 Facebook friends and spent just in excess of an hour a day on the social network, which had 1.79 billion monthly active users in the third-quarter of this year.

Questionnaires conducted at the beginning and end of the week indicated that taking a break from the site increased life satisfaction and positive emotions.

The effects of quitting were found to be greater among heavy users, passive users and those who envied others on the social network.

There was no positive effect of taking a break for light users.

Mr Tromholt wrote: “To make things clear, if one is a heavy Facebook user, one should use Facebook less to increase one’s wellbeing.

“And if one tends to feel envy when on Facebook, one should avoid browsing the sections (or specific friends) on Facebook causing this envy. And if one uses Facebook passively, one should reduce this kind of behaviour.

“Due to habits . . . it may be difficult to change one’s way of using Facebook. If this is the case, one should consider quitting Facebook for good.”

Previous studies

Previous studies have had mixed results on the link between Facebook use and wellbeing.

Some have garnered similar findings, but others have found no link and some have even found that time spent on the social network can boost wellbeing.

Brenda Wiederhold, editor-in-chief of Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, said: “This study found that ‘lurking’ on Facebook may cause negative emotions.

“However, on the bright side, previous studies have shown actively connecting with close friends, whether in real life or on Facebook, may actually increase one’s sense of wellbeing.”

Mr Tromholt suggested future studies should investigate the effect of quitting Facebook for a greater length of time and look at other social networks, including Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

Guardian service