Connecting and sharing are the hallmarks of the social media landscape. By bringing people together online, sites such as Facebook and Google+ boast they are making the world more open and accessible. Is it possible, however, they are doing the opposite?
Researchers at the University of Michigan recently sought to understand the consequences of using social networks. Focusing on Facebook, which has 1.1 billion users worldwide, a study showed that use of the network may impact an individual’s feeling of loneliness, anxiety, and general emotional well-being.
Loneliness in particular is of interest to those in the field of psychology or brain research, considering social networks are generally thought of as platforms in which people can stay connected to one another. Research suggests that social networks may actually perpetuate loneliness in a number of ways.
For example, because we are allowed to “edit” and “monitor” our online presence, we create identity constructs that may not be true to our own selves and may not be as fulfilling having face-to-face conversations. We also participate in social comparisons in which we unfairly judge our own lives and actions to others, whose lives may seem fuller and richer than our own.
In fact, loneliness may be the most common ailment of the modern world, according to this animation that seeks to explain the connections between social networks and being lonely.
Digging a little deeper, does social engagement have a genetic root? From the California Academy of Sciences, Michael Platt, Director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, explains why a study of interactions among a group of isolated Rhesus monkeys on the Caribbean island of Cayo Santiago off the coast of Puerto Rico may provide insight as to how genetics affect complex social behavior.