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BizReport : Social Marketing : January 24, 2013

Research reveals the Facebook 'envy spiral'

Do you log-on to Facebook only to be confronted with updates and images that leave you angry, envious or just darn right miserable with your lot in life? If so, you're not alone, according to new research by two German universities.

by Helen Leggatt

When German researchers from Humboldt University (Berlin) and Technical University (Darmstadt) asked 600 Facebook users how they felt when browsing the social network they found that, for a third, it was a negative emotional experience.

It seems that, for many, being bombarded with idyllic photos of holidays and family, along with ebullient status updates, makes them compare their lives with those in their Friends list. For the most part, that leaves people feeling dissatisfied with their own lives.

The research found that "Facebook users in their 30s were likely to feel jealous about their friends' happy families. Women were more likely to obsess over physical appearance and social standing, and men tended to boast about their accomplishments at home and at work".

And it's not only those that are most 'involved' with Facebook that are most affected. Passive Facebook users, who tend to read the newsfeed, browse friends' pages and scan through photographs, were the ones most likely to be negatively affected.

Negative feelings, such as envy, can lead to what researchers refer to as "envy spiral". This happens when such emotions cause Facebook users to exaggerate recent success and embellish their Facebook profile to show them in a more positive light, which, in turn, leads to jealously among others. And so it goes on.

"Access to copious positive news and the profiles of seemingly successful 'friends' fosters social comparison that can readily provoke envy," explains Hanna Krasnova of the Institute of Information Systems at Humboldt University. "By and large, online social networks allow users unprecedented access to information on relevant others - insights that would be much more difficult to obtain offline."

Let's face it. Facebook users rarely portray themselves in anything but a positive light. Photographs are vetted before being broadcast to friends lists, and the more morose aspects of life are usually left out. To believe that everyone on your friends list is having the ideal life, except you, only serves to illustrate the 'pimping' that goes on to hide what is, for the most part, probably a mundane and normal existence.

Tags: consumer attitudes, Facebook, research, social media, social network

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