Does logging onto Facebook make you feel sad, as if everyone's having fun but you? Maybe you're just overestimating how happy your friends are. New research out of Stanford University suggests when we misgauge our friends' negative feelings, we feel worse about ourselves.
In a study published in the January issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers examined how college students evaluate their own mood and that of their peers. The research demonstrated students greatly underestimated other people's negative emotions, which in turn increased their own feelings of unhappiness because they felt "less normal."
Lead researcher Alex Jordan, a social psychologist who now teaches at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, explained some people tend to focus on the negative aspects of their own lives while focusing on the positive aspects of other people's lives. "People think, 'Why am I alone on a Saturday night or why I am not in a relationship?'" he said. "When people overestimate the happiness of friends, they felt more negatively about their own lives."
Jordan and his colleagues asked 80 Stanford freshmen to report if they or their peers had recently experienced various negative emotional events such as a distressing argument with a friend, or positive events, such as a high grade. The majority of the freshmen continually underestimated how many negative experiences their peers were having.
As part of the same study researchers also surveyed 140 Stanford students to find out if they were any more accurate in evaluating the moods of other students. They found that the majority of students were unable to accurately gauge others' happiness even when they were evaluating the moods of people they knew well. Not surprisingly, the more students underestimated others' negative emotions, the more they tended to report feeling lonely.
Although Jordan didn't examine Facebook usage, he believes his study's findings may help explain why some people feel bad after spending time on the social networking site. Some of his friends have spoke to him about how dejected they felt after scrolling through friends' pictures and profiles, an area that he says might warrant further research.
Junior Kayla Dellefratte from Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. logs off Facebook when she begins to feel frustrated with what she is seeing.
"I see one of my friends living life, their own life, and I feel like stalking their photos is like I'm not living," she said. "It's not a great feeling."
Matt Van Dao, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University said, "When I see what my friends are doing while I'm online in the library I start questioning what I'm doing with my time."
Catalina Toma, a communications professor at the University of Wisconsin who is currently studying the effects of social networks on a user's well-being, believes passive Facebook consumption (such as monitoring your friends' newsfeeds) can leave people feeling lonelier than before they logged on.