This may sound like a joke, but it's not: researchers at Stony Brook University in New York have found that too much Facebook usage can leave you more prone to anxiety and depression...that is, if you're a teenage girl. In a study, a group of 13-year old girls were evaluated by psychology professor Dr. Joanne Davila and her colleague, Lisa Starr. A year later, the researchers followed up with the girls, testing them for depressive symptoms.
Feeling Down? Blame Facebook!
The results of their tests, recently published in The Journal of Adolescence, showed that the girls who talked with their friends online had significantly higher levels of depression. Says Dr. Davila, "Texting, instant messaging and social networking make it very easy for adolescents to become even more anxious, which can lead to depression."
Apparently, the problem with these electronic tools du jour is that they allowed the girls to discuss the same problems over and over again. This caused them to get stuck obsessing over a particular emotional setback, unable to move forward.
A Couple of Caveats
Turning a critical eye to this research, though, we have to wonder: is it really Facebook and IM that's getting the girls down? Or is it just the nature of teenage girls to talk themselves to tears? We already know that teenage girls engage in excessive talking and rumination...and they've been doing so for years. It's just the means by which they communicate these days that has changed.
Years ago, those same girls may have spent hours on the phone or writing out their thoughts in secret "slambooks." Even longer ago, they probably sat at their desks writing out long, emotional letters. For many girls, chatting about or dwelling on their problems is just a part of growing up.
Even Dr. Davila seemed to notice that it's not necessarily the medium through which the chatter tasks place that's the issue - it's the amount of discussion that leads to the feelings of depression. Said the professor, "[The girls] often don't realize that excessive talking is actually making them feel worse."
It's also worth pointing out that the study involved a relatively small sample of girls: 83 in total, which doesn't seem like a large enough group to form any definitive, universal conclusions.
If anything, this study just shows that social networking sites haven't changed anything about how we communicate - they've just given us a different platform through which we do so.