Reducing Facebook time by as little as 20 minutes per day is associated with greater well-being, a higher level of life satisfaction and a healthier lifestyle, according to a small but interesting German study published online this month in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
This isn’t the first study to show that people tend to report significantly higher levels of life satisfaction and more positive moods after quitting Facebook and other social media sites. It is one of the first, however, to suggest that reducing — not abandoning — Facebook and other social media may be enough to prevent compulsive use of such sites and protect emotional and perhaps physical well-being.
That’s important, because leaving social media entirely is not realistic for most people and may even have a negative impact on their social and working life, point out Brailovskaia and her co-authors in their paper.
According to the Pew Research Center, about seven in 10 American adults use Facebook, primarily to communicate with family, friends and work colleagues. About 75 percent of those users visit the site at least once a day.
Setting up the study
For the study, Brailovskaia and her colleagues recruited 286 German Facebook users, aged 18 to 59, who used the social media site for at least 25 minutes a day, with an average usage time of about an hour. Three in four of the participants were university students, and most were also women.
The participants filled out questionnaires designed to assess their internet use in general and their Facebook use in particular. They also provided information on their physical activity and smoking behavior. In addition, they answered two series of questions used widely by psychologists to measure life satisfaction and symptoms of depression.
The participants were then randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group was instructed to reduce their Facebook use by 20 minutes daily for two weeks. At the end of each day, they were asked whether they had complied with the instruction. Members of the other group (the “control”) were told to use Facebook as they normally did.
The questionnaires were re-administered to all the participants halfway through the two-week experiment (on day 7), immediately after the experiment ended (on day 15), and at one-month, two-month and three-month follow-up points.
What the study found
The researchers found that participants in the intervention group decreased the daily time they spent on Facebook from 56 to 32 minutes, on average. They reduced both types of uses of the site: active (engaging in direct interaction with others) and passive (browsing other people’s status updates without directly interacting).
“This is significant, because passive use in particular leads to people comparing themselves with others and thus experiencing envy and a reduction in psychological well-being,” says Brailovskaia.
Compared to the participants in the control group, those in the intervention group were also more likely to have increased their physical activity and to smoke fewer cigarettes (a drop from 8 to 6 daily, on average, among the smokers) than they did before the study began. In addition, symptoms of depression were more likely to have decreased, while their satisfaction with life was more likely to have increased.
“After the two-week period of Facebook detox, these effects, i.e. the improvement of well-being and a healthier lifestyle, lasted until the final checks three months after the experiment,” says Brailovskaia.
Lessening the compulsion
This was a small study that involved mostly young, female German college students. It also focused only on Facebook. The findings may not be applicable to other groups of people — or to users of other social media platforms.
Still, the findings align with previous research that has shown extensive Facebook use can contribute to lower psychological well-being and the development of a compulsion to continually check social media — a phenomenon that Brailovskaia and other researchers call “Facebook addiction disorder.”
The current study suggests a not-too-drastic remedy: “[A] reduction (not a complete waving) of daily time spent on Facebook might be sufficient to prevent a pathological bonding to the platform, to protect subjective well-being, and even to contribute to healthier lifestyle,” Brailovskaia and her co-authors conclude.
FMI: You’ll find an abstract of the study on the website for Computers in Human Behavior, but the full study is behind a paywall.