Facebook, Subjective Wellbeing, and Relational Frame Theory

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By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor, bSci21.org

The more you use Facebook, the worse you feel.

That is the conclusion from a study published in the journal PLOS One.  Researchers from the University of Michigan followed 82 participants for two weeks.  Each day, the participants received five text messages asking how they feel overall, how worried they are, how lonely they feel, how much they have used Facebook in the last hour, and level of in-person social interaction since the last text message.

A central finding is that Facebook use was the largest predictor of how people felt at any given moment and how satisfied they were with their lives at that moment.  Facebook use was negatively correlated with the measures such that more Facebook use correlated with worse feelings and less life satisfaction.  Moreover, the predictive effect of Facebook was moderated by social contact.  In other words, Facebook did not predict declines in wellbeing for those with low levels of in-person social contact.  However, the more direct social contact a person had with others, the more likely Facebook use would predict declines in wellbeing.

The researchers are the first to point out, rightly, that an experimental study would be needed to determine if Facebook was the cause of the decline in wellbeing.  However, if it is a causal factor, a possible explanation cited in the study was that Facebook use prompts deleterious comparisons of oneself with others.  This could explain why Facebook use predicted declines in wellbeing for those participants with high levels of direct social contact.  

Behaviorally, we might say that high levels of social contact provide a rich context for the emission of relational operants of comparison (e.g., “better than” or “worse than”) with relata comprising one’s online interactions and in-person interactions.  There could be something in these comparisons that contribute to a decline in wellbeing that are absent in those with relatively fewer direct social interactions.  To read more about relational operants and Relational Frame Theory, visit the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science and their myriad resources available to the public. 

What do you think about the conclusions drawn from the study?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!  Also don’t forget to join bSci21 via email subscription to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


About the Author

President, bSci21 Media, LLC Editor, bSci21.org

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