The world’s most common digital habit is not easy to break, even in a fit of moral outrage over the privacy risks and political divisions Facebook has created, or amid concerns about how the habit might affect emotional health.
Although four in 10 Facebook users say they have taken long breaks from it, the digital platform keeps growing. A recent study found that the average user would have to be paid $1,000 to $2,000 to be pried away for a year.
So what happens if you actually do quit? A new study, the most comprehensive to date, offers a preview.
Expect the consequences to be fairly immediate: More in-person time with friends and family. Less political knowledge, but also less partisan fever. A small bump in one’s daily moods and life satisfaction. And, for the average Facebook user, an extra hour a day of downtime.
The study, by researchers at Stanford University and New York University, helps clarify the ceaseless debate over Facebook’s influence on the behavior, thinking and politics of its active monthly users, who number some 2.3 billion worldwide. The study was posted recently on the Social Science Research Network, an open access site.
The most striking result from the study may be that deactivating Facebook had a positive but small effect on people’s moods and life satisfaction. The finding tempers the widely held presumption that habitual social-media use causes real psychological distress.
This notion is drawn in part from surveys that ask social-media users about their extent of use and overall moods. For instance, research led by Ethan Kross, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has found that high levels of passive browsing on social media predict lowered moods, compared to more active engagement.
But previous research could not discern whether mood problems followed heavy usage, or moody people tended to be the heaviest users. The new study supported the latter explanation.
If heavy Facebook use caused mood problems, the researchers would have expected to see the moods of heavy users improve by a greater amount relative to lightweight users. But that didn't happen, which suggested that the heavy users were moody before they were sucked deeply into Facebook.
In an interview, Dr. Kross said that it was too early to draw hard conclusions on the psychological effects of quitting Facebook. He pointed to two recent, smaller randomized studies that found users’ moods lifted when their access to social media was restricted.
“What I take away from these three papers” — the Stanford study and the two smaller ones — “is we need to know more about how and when social-media use impacts well-being, not conclude that the relationship doesn’t exist,” or is very mild, Dr. Kross said.
Read the full article at the New York Times.
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