New research, published in the scientific journal Computers in Human Behavior, has found that browsing Facebook is more likely to result in positive emotions than negative emotions.
The study, by German researchers Ruoyun Lin and Sonja Utz, suggests that fears about feelings of envy on social networking websites has been exaggerated.
“The results from our studies have implications for teachers and parents who are worried about young adolescents’ social media use,” the researchers said. “Because the positive effects of browsing Facebook outweigh the negative effects, they do not need to worry too much about the negative psychological effects as long as the users do not browse Facebook excessively (with an ‘appropriate’ amount of usage time). Also, we found that self-esteem and dispositional envy played a significant role in predicting Facebook envy. For users who have a high dispositional envy or low self-esteem, we would suggest them do not obsessively use Facebook in a passive way.”
The researchers were interested in examining how the personal relationship between the author of a Facebook post and the reader influenced positive and negative emotions caused by browsing Facebook.
“In a social network context, relationship closeness is often intertwined with the expression of ‘tie strength’: A strong tie is usually a close friend or family member, that with whom one shares an intimate relationship; and a weak tie is usually an acquaintance that one does not feel emotionally close to,” Lin and Utz explained.
In their first study of 207 American participants, the researchers found people rated most of the posts on their Facebook News Feed as positive and entertaining. Over half of the posts, 64 percent, resulted in the respondents feeling pleasant. The relationship between the author of the post and the reader predicting the feeling of happiness after reading a post. The participants were happier after reading positive news from a strong tie and sadder after reading negative news from a strong tie.
Envy was the most reported negative emotion. About 12 percent of the posts resulted in the participant feeling envious. But the relationship between the author of the post and the reader did not influence the feeling of envy.
“Users are happy after reading positive posts from their Facebook friends, and are even happier if the good news comes from a strong tie; whereas envious feelings are more likely to be predicted by individual characteristics of the user such as low self-esteem, rather than relationship closeness,” Lin and Utz wrote. “It seems that tie strength does not play a role in predicting envy.”
In their second study of 194 German participants, the researchers found positive Facebook posts triggered more happiness when they came from a strong tie rather than a weak tie. Additionally, the researchers found Facebook posts tended to result in more benign envy than malicious envy.
“Benign envy leads to a moving-up motivation (i.e., achieving the desired attribute by improving one’s own situation), and malicious envy leads to a pulling-down motivation (i.e., an intention to damage the position of the superior other),” they explained.
The closer the relationship, the more the participant experienced benign envy after reading a positive post. But the strength of the relationship did not influence whether participants felt malicious envy.
“The finding on happiness contributes to the theory on emotional contagion, and, consistent with previous research, suggests that emotional contagion is stronger when the relationship between individuals is closer,” Lin and Utz said. “The finding with regard to benign envy also contributes to the literature on social comparison and tie strength, by showing that benign envy, rather than malicious envy, is more likely to be experienced when the relationship is closer.”