The more Facebook friends you have, the more likely you are to feel stressed out by the social network, according to a new study by Scottish researchers and psychologists at the Edinburgh Napier University. They quizzed about 200 students on their use of the service, and concluded that for a significant number of users, the negative effects outweigh the benefits of staying in touch with friends and family. There was also an online survey component that attracted 175 participants (127 female and 48 male, with a mean age of 30.4 years), which found that:
- 12 percent of respondents said that Facebook made them feel anxious. Of these, respondents had an average of 117 friends each. The remaining 88 percent of respondents, who said that Facebook did not make them feel anxious, had an average of 75 friends each.
- 63 percent delayed replying to friend requests.
- 32 percent said rejecting friend requests led to feelings of guilt and discomfort.
- 10 percent admitted disliking receiving friend requests.
"The results threw up a number of paradoxes," Dr. Kathy Charles, who led the study, said in a statement. "For instance, although there is great pressure to be on Facebook there is also considerable ambivalence amongst users about its benefits. Our data also suggests that there is a significant minority of users who experience considerable Facebook-related anxiety, with only very modest or tenuous rewards. An overwhelming majority of respondents reported that the best thing about Facebook was 'keeping in touch', often without any further explanation."
Those with more friends are the most likely to be more stressed because they have invested the most time in the site. Other causes of tension include "unfriending" unwanted contacts, the pressure to be inventive and entertaining, using appropriate etiquette for different types of friends, feelings of exclusion, paranoia, as well as envy of others' lifestyles.
Dr. Charles noted that many were anxious about withdrawing from the site for fear of missing important social information or offending contacts. She even compared the social network to gambling: the service keeps users in a neurotic limbo, not knowing whether they should keep at it just in case they miss out on something good.