Posted on Mon, 5 Dec 11
Regular social interaction and support is an incredibly important determinant of your health but the rise of online social networks may be paradoxically increasing social isolation and loneliness.
A potential problem with online social networks is that they may be replacing interactions such as meeting up or talking over the phone with simply monitoring online activity remotely or brief online interactions (such as a like button). While people may have perceivably larger social networks than ever before, the quality of social interactions could be declining.
An early study found that the adoption of the internet “was associated with declines in participant’s communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their depression and loneliness (1).”
More recently a correlation between technology use and loneliness was discovered. A large survey found that people who used an average of four modern technologies to communicate (such as email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter) were on average far lonelier than those who used only one (2).
But there is also of course the possibility that online social networks may have beneficial effects. When people log onto facebook they have measurably heightened levels of mental and physical arousal (however, it is uncertain if that is a good thing) and some research suggests that social networks may even help build friendships (3-5).
Higher quality social networks have enormous potential to benefit human health, but the rise of communication technology and online social networks has mirrored a paradoxical increase in social isolation (6). Are online social networks bad (or good) for you? Should we be placing more emphasis on “old fashioned” face to face interaction? Time will tell.
1. Kraut R, Patterson M, Lundmark V, Kiesler S, Mukopadhyay T, Scherlis W. Internet paradox. A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being? Am Psychol. 1998 Sep;53(9):1017-31.
2. Relationships Indicators Survey 2011. Relationships Australia Inc.
3. Mauri M, Cipresso P, Balgera A, Villamira M, Riva G. Why Is Facebook So Successful? Psychophysiological Measures Describe a Core Flow State While Using Facebook. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2011 Aug 31. [Epub ahead of print]
4. Hsu CW, Wang CC, Tai YT. The closer the relationship, the more the interaction on facebook? Investigating the case of Taiwan users. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2011 Jul-Aug;14(7-8):473-6.
5. Kujath CL. Facebook and MySpace: Complement or Substitute for Face-to-Face Interaction? Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010 Jun 24. [Epub ahead of print]
6. Rajani R, Berman DS, Rozanski A. Social networks--are they good for your health? The era of Facebook and Twitter. QJM. 2011 Sep;104(9):819-20.