A study published earlier this year by the American Journal of Epidemiology (AJE) suggests that online social interactions carried over networks such as Facebook can have a negative impact on the user’s mental well-being. The study argues that online social interactions cannot substitute real world interactions, adding that the biggest issue lies in social networking giving the impression that users are engaging in meaningful social activities with their peers.
Studies show that humans are social beings by nature, meaning that face-to-face real world social interactions can have a great positive impact on our mental well-being. Humans tend to want and communicate and share their experiences with their peers, and generally speaking, this is a dynamic process involving speech, body language, physical senses, empathy, and so on. However, the issue with online social interactions is that they can feel like meaningful social activities when in fact they are merely poor substitutes. Moreover, recent studies show that interacting with other individuals over online social networks like Facebook can have a negative impact on our psychic. The study was conducted over a period of three years using three waves of subjects in 2013, 2014, and 2015 respectively. Data including social network measures and objective measures of Facebook use was collected from 5,208 subjects over the 3-year period, and researchers have investigated how Facebook and real-world social activities associate with self-reported mental and physical health, self-reported life satisfaction, as well as body mass index.
The study suggested that a 1-standard-deviation increase in likes clicked, links clicked or status updates on Facebook was associated with a drop of 5%-8% of a standard deviation in self-reported mental health. The report goes on to mention that the negative aspects of Facebook use were either comparable to, or greater in magnitude than the positive impact of real-world offline interactions. In theory, this implies that individuals who interact more on Facebook would also need to carry more meaningful offline social interactions in order to offset the negative effects on their mental health. It’s also worth noting that these results were solid enough for researchers to be able and predict a decrease in mental health year-on-year based on the collected data. Having said that, with social media becoming increasingly present in our daily lives, it’s important to know how these online interactions could affect our mental well-being and remember that they cannot substitute meaningful offline relationships.