Anxiety-inducing Facebook use linked to higher rates of upper respiratory infection, study finds

New research published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior presents evidence that Facebook use is linked to poorer health in some college students.

“The study was heavily driven by the undergraduate student researchers interests in social media,” explained study author Jay P. Campisi of Regis University. “They all use Facebook and Instagram all of the time, and they were reading the literature about the impact of face-to-face interactions on health and the natural question for them was, ‘Well what about us? What about interactions that we have with friends and with our partners and with our family members online, how do they impact our health?'”

Previous research has found Facebook use is associated with anxiety among some users. Studies have also found that chronic stress can suppress a person’s immune system and subsequently make them more prone to infection.

In their study, the researchers had 89 healthy college students fill out a survey assessing their Facebook use and general health. The participants were then tracked for 10 weeks to monitor incidence of upper respiratory infection.

Facebook use in general did not appear to be linked to poorer health. The total time spent on Facebook was not associated with an increased risk of infections.

However, participants with a greater number of Facebook friends tended to have a greater number of infections. The same was true of students who reported that Facebook provoked anxiety.

“It appears that individuals who use Facebook and induce anxiety or stress through their use of Facebook might have negative health impacts,” Campisi told PsyPost. “If you’re looking to feel less lonely or feel happier or have better health, probably staring at a phone or computer screen is not the way to go.”

Anxious Facebook users included people who spent more time analyzing why someone had not responded immediately to a comment they left, used Facebook to avoid having face-to-face conversations, and were more likely to question whether a commenter was serious or just joking.

The researchers also found that having more Facebook friends was associated with increased anxiety, which in turn was associated with an increased number of infections.

Like all research, this study has its limitations.

“This study only examined college-aged Facebook users and, therefore, we do not know if these effects are similar in other populations,” Campisi said. “For example, do grandparents who are using Facebook to view pictures of their grandchildren feel the same anxiety/stress that college students might have?”

The study, “Anxiety-inducing Facebook behavior is associated with higher rates of upper respiratory infection in college-aged users“, was also co-authored by Jeffrey May, Kendra Burch, Kalina Larson, Jessica Doscher, Shannon Doherty, Kaitlin Isaacson, Kelly Sebring, and Amie Gahan.