The more Facebook ‘friends’ you have, the more likely you are to feel stressed out by the social networking site, according to a new study led by Dr Kathy Charles of the University's School of Life, Sport and Social Sciences.
University Psychologists quizzed* around 200 students on their use of the phenomenally successful site, which now has more than 500 million users worldwide.
And they concluded that for a significant number of users the negative effects of Facebook outweighed the benefits of staying in touch with friends and family.
“The results threw up a number of paradoxes,” said Dr Kathy Charles, who led the study. “For instance, although there is great pressure to be on Facebook there is also considerable ambivalence amongst users about its benefits.
“Our data also suggests that there is a significant minority of users who experience considerable Facebook-related anxiety, with only very modest or tenuous rewards.
“And we found it was actually those with the most contacts, those who had invested the most time in the site, who were the ones most likely to be stressed.”
An online survey of students’ attitudes towards Facebook made up part of the study. Of those surveyed:
• 12 per cent of respondents said that Facebook made them feel anxious
• 63 per cent delayed replying to friend requests
• 32 per cent said rejecting friend requests led to feelings of guilt and discomfort
• 10 per cent admitted disliking receiving friend requests
“An overwhelming majority of respondents reported that the best thing about Facebook was ‘keeping in touch’, often without any further explanation,” said Dr Charles.
“But many also told us they were anxious about withdrawing from the site for fear of missing important social information or offending contacts.
“Like gambling, Facebook keeps users in a neurotic limbo, not knowing whether they should hang on in there just in case they miss out on something good.”
She said other causes of tension included purging unwanted contacts, the pressure to be inventive and entertaining, and having to use appropriate etiquette for different types of ‘friends’.
Dr Charles added: “The other responses we got in focus groups and one-to-one interviews suggests that the survey figures actually under represent aspects of stress and anxiety felt by some Facebook users, whether it’s through feelings of exclusion, pressure to be entertaining, paranoia or envy of others’ lifestyles.”
*The researchers used focus groups, an online survey and one-to-one interviews to collect their data.
• Informal focus groups were conducted using opportunity sampling of third year psychology and social science students. The three groups comprised seven students.
• The online survey attracted 175 participants of which 127 (72.6%) were female and 48 (27.4%) male. The mean age of the sample was 30.4 years (SD = 10.3, range 18 to 62) with four participants not disclosing their age.
• Five participants (two male) participated in semi-structured interviews on their use of Facebook. They were drawn from a subset of the survey sample who indicated their willingness to be interviewed.