Like it or not, social networks continue to evolve from a simple online communication tool between friends to a completely different genre of social interaction. The more time people spend on social networks, the more reason there is to consider the potential psychological benefits— and problems— of social networks. (Of course, first let me check my Facebook newsfeed).

Poke This — The Answer/Debate

The Greatist’s Behavioral Health Research and Development Team (me and my assistant Jack Daniels) recently developed a foolproof "Self Perceived Awesomeness Scale." This scale is 100% accurate and based on entire minutes of scientific research and negative binomial regression analysis. Maybe.

Number of "Friends" Self-Perceived Awesomeness Examples of Individuals Like This
Maybe 5-15? Not feelin’ so awesome, Bono’s cousin, That guy who played Scotty Smalls from The Sandlot, Me.
15-1,531 Pretty awesome. But still need a RedBull. That girl you knew in high school, any pizza delivery guy living in Nebraska.
>1,531 ROCK STAR status. LeBron James, Lady Gaga, Big Bird.

Joking aside, this does illustrate a simple point: common sense dictates that having more friends, online or off, equals more happiness. But is this scientifically proven? Luckily, a handful of quality studies conducted by universities have attempted to determine if social networks either boost a user’s self-esteem or catalyze depression.

One 300+ student survey suggests that the number of Facebook friends and positive self-presentation may enhance a user’s subjective well being Mirror, mirror on my Facebook wall: effects of exposure to Facebook on self-esteem. Gonzales, A., Hancock, J. Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, Cyberpsychology Behavior & Social Networking. 2011 Jan-Feb, 14(1-2):79-83.. Another study correlated improved self-esteem with subjects updating and viewing their own profiles Facebook and MySpace: complement or substitute for face-to- face interaction? Kujath, C. Washington State Department of Corrections, Olympia, Washington. Cyberpsychology Behavior & Social Networking. 2011 Jan-Feb;  14(1-2):75-8.. So it sounds, in other words, that more friends does in fact equal perceived awesomeness (actual awesomeness, unfortunately, seems to not have been measured).

On the other hand, subjective experience suggests there may be a downside. One study, researching if social networks act as a factor in depression within the college community, evaluated the “status updates” of 200 sophomore and junior undergraduate student’s over a one year period. 25% of the students displayed depressive symptoms and 2.5% met criteria for a major depressive episode Feeling bad on Facebook: depression disclosures by college students on a social networking site. Moreno, MA., Jelenchick, LA., Egan, KG., et al. School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. Depress Anxiety. 2011 Mar, 10.1002/da.20805.

. The study also found that the more students received online reinforcement from their friends, the more likely they were to discuss their depression publicly via Facebook. Although the study doesn’t necessarily prove social networks make users depressed, it does suggest college students frequently display symptoms of depression online and, for better or worse, demonstrate a willingness to discuss it with their friends. Other risky issues can include "cyberbullying," or deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing or hostile information about another person; privacy concerns; and/or the unexplored effect of behavioral ads.

Despite the fact that the majority of social networks have been around for less than a decade, the good news is there's a surprising amount of research on the issue of social networks and happiness. The bad news is that there’s still no majority consensus and unlikely to be one any time soon. Though both extremes have been explored, at the end of the day, when it comes to personal satisfaction and happiness, social network use truly does depend on the user. So, for example, if I'm looking through the 300th picture of that girl I hooked up with freshman year of college who I haven’t spoken to since is, I guess it's me who's responsible for how I feel about it. The Facebook Paths to Happiness: Effects of the Number of Facebook Friends and Self-Presentation on Subjective Well-Being.  Kim, J., Lee, J.  School of Communication Studies, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio. Cyberpsychology, Behavior Social Networking. 2010 Nov 30.

Certainty Level

You're killin' me, Smalls!

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