A study among Facebook users found that those who tend to ruminate and to compare themselves to other users are more likely to experience loneliness. The findings were published in the journal Heliyon.
People are increasingly reporting a lack of social connection in their lives, prompting scholars to suggest that loneliness is becoming a public health concern. The growing use of social media may be a contributing factor to this increased loneliness. These platforms, which were ironically created to facilitate social networking, may inadvertently be leaving users feeling more disconnected.
Study authors Bridget Dibb and M. Foster say that empirical research has offered mixed findings on the topic, with some studies suggesting that social media reinforces loneliness and others suggesting that it alleviates loneliness. The researchers aimed to investigate whether rumination and social comparison might play a role in the connection between social media use and loneliness.
Dibb and Foster opted to focus their study on Facebook and recruited a sample of 214 Facebook users, the majority of whom were female (81%) and White British (88%). The participants, who ranged in age from 18 to 72, completed an online questionnaire that included measures of loneliness, depression, and the tendency to ruminate.
The surveys also asked participants how often they engaged in active activities (e.g., posting comments) and passive activities (e.g., scrolling through the news feed) on Facebook and whether they tended to make upward social comparisons (comparing themselves to others who seem better off) and downward social comparisons (comparing themselves to others who seem to be doing worse) on Facebook.
A regression analysis revealed that participants who reported making upward social comparisons on Facebook tended to experience greater loneliness. In line with previous studies, this suggests that comparing oneself to other Facebook users who seem better off coincides with feeling more lonely. Interestingly, the tendency to make downward social comparisons was not significantly related to participants’ loneliness.
Contrary to previous studies, the way that users engaged with Facebook — active versus passive use — was not significantly linked to loneliness.
The analysis also revealed that participants who reported a greater tendency to ruminate (i.e., to think deeply about something for an extended period of time) were more likely to feel lonely. Previous research suggests that mindfulness training can effectively reduce rumination. The study authors propose that mindfulness may be a helpful tool for lowering rumination, and, in turn, reducing loneliness, among social media users.
“Ultimately,” Dibb and Foster write, “this study has provided an explanation for how Facebook, the online social network designed to connect people with their friends and family, is paradoxically associated with a rise in loneliness within society.”
The researchers suggest that action can be taken by social media platforms to mitigate the experience of loneliness among users. For example, Facebook could promote mindfulness tips throughout the news feed to help reduce rumination. Additionally, the platform could publish reminders to users that the content that people post online reflects their best moments and does not reflect real life.
The study was limited by its cross-sectional design, and the researchers note that they cannot rule out the possibility that loneliness contributes to depression, rumination, and the tendency to make upward social comparisons. They say that future longitudinal studies will be needed to shed light on the ordering of these variables and determine whether Facebook use is causally associated with loneliness.
The study, “Loneliness and Facebook use: the role of social comparison and rumination”, was authored by Bridget Dibb and M. Foster.