According to a brand new study that was recently published in the journal Heliyon, social media use and the general perception of an individuals physical health can get extremely complicated, to say the least. Now, researchers have discovered that regular Facebook use and social comparison resulted in an increased awareness of physical symptoms.
“More people are spending more time on Facebook and social comparisons are an inevitable part of the experience,” said lead study author and health psychologist, Bridget Dibb, PhD, in a recent press release. “It is important to be more aware of how this activity affects us, and how it may change how we feel about ourselves, given the strong link between well-being, quality of life, and physical health.” She then went on to explain “Our most important finding was that participants who feel Facebook is an important part of their lives also report more symptoms, linking social comparison activity with the perception of worse physical health.”
Social comparison happens when you compare yourself with other people in order to “evaluate and self-enhance,” according to the study. If you’re feeling insecure or uncertain of yourself, you might be especially prone to this, the study’s authors write. “Upward comparison occurs when we compare with someone who we perceive as ‘better-off’ than ourselves, and downward comparison occurs when we compare with someone we feel is ‘worse-off’ than ourselves.”
The study’s authors also discovered that while you might think that ‘upward comparison’ messes with your self-confidence while the ‘downward’ version gives you a boost, researchers are now explaining that their findings were less straightforward than that. Essentially, it’s not so much social comparison, but how you interpret and make meaning out of that comparison, that can affect how you think about your overall health. According to Forbes, who wrote about the physical health concerns that users in the study faced were found in those who engaged in social media comparison and who were more likely to be aware of physical symptoms like sleep disturbances and aches and pains. Although, it’s not currently clear whether feeling unwell results in more social media usage in the first place, or if social media usage can mess with your perception of your health.
“We are still learning about the positive and negative effects of social media use, and causality is an important area for further study,” Dr. Dibbs noted in the press release. However, according to Refinery29, previous research does indicate that social media users who feel anxious as a result of social comparison might be more at risk for respiratory infections. Stress and anxiety can negatively impact the immune system, says Medical News Today, and researchers suggest that problems with mental health could eventually lead to physical illnesses as well, according to Refinery29.
Additionally, new research published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour discovered that the more friends a person had on Facebook, the more likely they were to develop an upper respiratory infection. While the research does seem shocking to many, a number of prior studies has connected social media with greater mental health problems like anxiety and depression, and the researchers on this study believe that the connection to mental health could also eventually lead to problems with physical health, Medical Daily reports.
In this particular instance, researchers at Regis University in Colorado asked 89 healthy college students to participate in the study and to fill out a survey about both their health and their Facebook usage. The participants were then tracked for 10 consecutive weeks, monitoring for symptoms of an upper respiratory infection. The study discovered that both the students who had more Facebook friends and those who reported feeling anxious while on Facebook were more likely to develop an infection.
The study’s author, Jay P. Campisi also stated, “This study only examined college-aged Facebook users and, therefore, we do not know if these effects are similar in other populations.” He then went on to explain, “For example, do grandparents who are using Facebook to view pictures of their grandchildren feel the same anxiety/stress that college students might have?”