In the first study of its kind, University of Surrey researchers found that Facebook use was linked to perceptions of worsening physical health. The research findings are published in the journal Heliyon.

Dr. Bridget Dibb and her team investigated the relationship between one hundred and sixty-five Facebook users and their perceptions of physical health. Participants were surveyed to identify levels of comparison with others on the social networking site, self-esteem rates, perceived physical health and life satisfaction.

Researchers found that participants who compared themselves to others on Facebook had greater awareness of physical ailments, such as sleep problems, weight change and muscle tension.

Investigators suggest those who compare with others on Facebook may perceive more physical symptoms but equally, those who perceive more symptoms may compare more with others on Facebook.

Social comparison is a process where comparisons are made to others in order to evaluate our lives and are more likely to occur when we feel uncertain about our situation.

Researchers also discovered that females and those experiencing anxiety or depression perceived more symptoms. In contrast, participants who were more satisfied with their lives and had high self-esteem rates were associated with fewer physical symptoms.

Investigators believe an increased use of the social networking sites may be associated with more opportunities to compare ourselves unfavorably to others who we perceive to be “better off” than ourselves both in lifestyle and in health.

Dibb, a senior lecturer in health psychology, said, “Comparing ourselves to others is not a new concept, however with the rise of social media it is becoming a part of our everyday lives.

“An entity like Facebook, with 2.27 billion active monthly users, has never existed before. The long-term effect it has on individuals is unknown, but it is clear that comparison with others is associated with perceptions of ill health.

“Users need to be aware of how they feel when they use sites like Facebook and recognize the dangers of comparisons in this context.”

Source: University of Surrey/EurekAlert