Does Using Facebook Make People Lonelier?

Posted on October 11, 2017

Any area of research develops over time, but the field of social media and loneliness has seen an especially rapid progress and refinement over the last 5 years: Initially, researchers dealt with broad questions such as ‘does total time spent on Facebook correlate to loneliness?’ As research became more complex over time, distinctions between Facebook behaviors had to be made, which ranged from ‘lurking’ (passive use) to ‘engaging with friends.’
Today’s studies even include the categorization of users’ motivations, such as the hope to avoid offline social interactions, or the goal to make new friends and/or connect with existing ones.

A literature review by Rebecca Nowland and her colleagues has led to two main hypotheses concerning the relationship between loneliness and social media use, and they are quite contradicting:

1. The displacement hypothesis
Social internet use created an increased feeling of loneliness because it takes the place of offline interactions. Studies on adolescents and adults have found this relationship to be two-way, in that lonely people seek out the internet and use it as a substitute for offline interactions, which in turn creates more loneliness. Additionally, it was shown that people who already feel lonely tend to use the internet more and find it easier to express themselves on social media. Lastly, lonelier people were found to show more passive ‘lurking’ on the social internet than others.

2. The stimulation hypothesis
Other studies have found evidence that online social interactions strengthen existing relationships. Networking through social media was found to lead to stronger social ties and increased social connections, and interestingly, engaging with friends online lead to higher-quality face-to-face interactions as well.

But how can these contradicting hypotheses both show solid evidence and co-exist?

Rebecca Nowland says that both theories are applicable in different contexts: When you spend time on Facebook and other social sites to make new friends or interact with your existing friends, the use of technology decreases your loneliness. However, if you use it instead of interacting with others offline, your feelings of loneliness increase.

Category(s):Friendships, Other, Social Isolation

Source material from Perspectives on Psychological Science

Mental Health News