Unhappy with your life? Try spending less time on Facebook!

I’m going to ask you a question, and you have to be honest.  Promise?  OK.  Here’s the question: how much time do you spend on Facebook each day?  Take a minute to add it up: scrolling through your newsfeed in the elevator, liking photos while at the gym, commenting on a friend’s post while shopping, posting a photo of your food…  Believe it or not, the average smartphone user spends 32 minutes on Facebook every day (Facebook IDC study, 2013).

As social animals, humans enjoy connecting with other people.  Since the advent of sites like Facebook, social media has become a major mode of communication, especially for young people.  But how does all this technological social interaction affect our feelings of well-being and happiness?  A recent study published in PLoS ONE found that rather than enhancing our feelings of well-being, Facebook actually undermines them (Kross et al., 2013).

In order to study the effect of Facebook use on subjective well-being over time, the research team got 78 undergraduate student volunteers, who had smartphones and Facebook accounts, and texted them five times throughout the day at random for two weeks.  Each text included a link to an online survey of five questions:

  1. How do you feel right now?SmartphoneDepression
  2. How worried are you right now?
  3. How lonely do you feel right now?
  4. How much have you used Facebook since the last time we asked?
  5. How much have you interacted with other people “directly” since the last time we asked?

Over the two-week period, the researchers found that the more participants used Facebook, the more their life satisfaction declined over time!

Wait a second.  Can it really be that simple?  Maybe other social interactions undermine well-being!  While it is true that “direct” social interactions cause an increase in well-being, controlling for this did not alter the significant relationship found between Facebook use and well-being.  In fact, this Facebook effect was more pronounced in people who socialized more “in real life.”

Well, maybe people just use Facebook when they are feeling bad!  In this study, worry did not predict changes in Facebook use, but loneliness did.  The more lonely people felt at one point, the more they used Facebook over time.  However, when the researchers controlled for this, Facebook use continued to predict declines in well-being.

So what can you do about Facebook despair?  It’s simple: spend less time on Facebook!  As this research showed, “direct” face-to-face interaction led people to feel better over time.  Sometimes less is more!

Facebook Depression Knowing Neurons



Facebook IDC study: http://newsroom.fb.com/News/588/IDC-Study-Mobile-and-Social-Connectiveness

Kross E., Verduyn P., Demiralp E., Park J., Lee D.S., Lin N., Shablack H., Jonides J., Ybarra O. & Sueur C. & (2013). Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults, PLoS ONE, 8 (8) e69841. DOI: 

Images made by Kate Jones and adapted from Sverre Haugland/Image Source/Corbis and Image Source/Corbis

Kate Fehlhaber

Kate graduated from Scripps College in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Neuroscience, completing the cellular and molecular track with honors. As an undergraduate, she studied long-term plasticity in models of Parkinson’s disease in a neurobiology lab at University of California, Los Angeles. She continued this research as lab manager before entering the University of Southern California Neuroscience graduate program in 2011 and then transferring to UCLA in 2013. She completed her PhD in 2017, where her research focused on understanding the communication between neurons in the eye. Kate founded Knowing Neurons in 2011, and her passion for creative science communication has continued to grow.