Some users may find themselves spending quite a bit of time viewing Facebook and may inevitably begin comparing what is happening in their lives to the activities and accomplishments of their friends.
"Although social comparison processes have been examined at length in traditional contexts, the literature is only beginning to explore social comparisons in online social networking settings," said Mai-Ly Steers, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Houston (UH).
Steers conducted two studies to investigate how social comparison to peers on Facebook might impact users' psychological health. Both studies provide evidence that Facebook users felt depressed when comparing themselves to others.
"It doesn't mean Facebook causes depression, but that depressed feelings and lots of time on Facebook and comparing oneself to others tend to go hand in hand," said Steers.
The first study found an association between time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms for both genders. However, the results demonstrated that making Facebook social comparisons mediated the link between time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms for men only.
Similarly, the second study found a relationship between the amount of time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms was mediated by social comparisons on Facebook.
Unlike the first study, gender did not moderate these associations. "One danger is that Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare," Steers said.
"You can't really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post. In addition, most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad," Steers said.
"If we're comparing ourselves to our friends' 'highlight reels,' this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives," said Steers.
Steers said that people afflicted with emotional difficulties may be particularly susceptible to depressive symptoms due to Facebook social comparison after spending more time on medium.
For already distressed individuals, this distorted view of their friends' lives may make them feel alone in their internal struggles, which may compound their feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The research was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.