The New Yorker:
No one joins Facebook to be sad and lonely. But a new study from the University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross argues that that’s exactly how it makes us feel. Over two weeks, Kross and his colleagues sent text messages to eighty-two Ann Arbor residents five times per day. The researchers wanted to know a few things: how their subjects felt overall, how worried and lonely they were, how much they had used Facebook, and how often they had had direct interaction with others since the previous text message. Kross found that the more people used Facebook in the time between the two texts, the less happy they felt—and the more their overall satisfaction declined from the beginning of the study until its end. The data, he argues, shows that Facebook was making them unhappy.
But, as with most findings on Facebook, the opposite argument is equally prominent. In 2009, Sebastián Valenzuela and his colleagues came to the opposite conclusion of Kross: that using Facebook makes us happier. They also found that it increases social trust and engagement—and even encourages political participation. Valenzuela’s findings fit neatly with what social psychologists have long known about sociality: as Matthew Lieberman argues in his book “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” social networks are a way to share, and the experience of successful sharing comes with a psychological and physiological rush that is often self-reinforcing. The prevalence of social media has, as a result, fundamentally changed the way we read and watch: we think about how we’ll share something, and whom we’ll share it with, as we consume it. The mere thought of successful sharing activates our reward-processing centers, even before we’ve actually shared a single thing.
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