New Research Shows That Facebook Users Live Longer. Kind of.
There have been many scientific studies conducted over the years which show that people who have larger social networks live longer. There are various reasons for this - having a bigger support network can help diffuse stress, can help encourage healthier life behaviors (like diet and exercise) and can provide more meaning to our existence. In fact, social relationships can increase the odds of survival by more than 50%, which is on a par with quitting smoking, and nearly twice as beneficial as physical activity - but do those same factors hold true when looking at social media networks? Facebook recently conducted a study to find out.
In order to determine the impact of online social networks on health and longevity, Facebook's research team partnered with academics at UC San Diego, and Yale and studied the online activities of Facebook users.
Their bottom line finding?
"In a given year, the average Facebook user is about 12% less likely to die than someone who doesn't use the site."
That's pretty compelling evidence to log on and set up a profile, right? Facebook increases your life expectancy and helps you live longer, it's worth getting involved, right? But while that narrative is a powerful endorsement of The Social Network, there's a little more to it than just posting updates and giving Likes.
To draw their conclusions, the researchers compared a random sample of California-based Facebook users with users who had appeared in the public California vital records, indicating that they had died. With these two groups in place, they then compared counts of their activities on Facebook "such as the number of photos they appeared in and the number of status updates they wrote".
Based on this, they were able to make four key findings.
1. People with larger networks have better health
This is consistent with previous academic studies and comes as little surprise - people with larger networks are generally better off, with the aforementioned reasons playing a part.
2. People who receive a lot of friend requests have greater longevity, but people who initiate a lot of friend requests don't
So it's not just about getting the most connections, it's your ability to earn reciprocal connections that's important. This means you can't 'game' life by getting a heap of Facebook friends, you actually have to establish connections and build support and friendship groups.
3. People who use Facebook more are less likely to die from illnesses that other research has linked to isolation (such as cardiovascular disease or substance abuse)
Again, this relates to the previously noted benefits of a social network, that they can reduce stress and encourage better habits - implied social pressure, for example, may make you want to eat better or keep you away from substance abuse.
4. People use Facebook at extremely high levels without also participating in offline interactions (e.g. they post dozens of status updates but don't appear in any photos indicating offline activity) are at a higher than normal risk of cardiovascular disease or substance abuse
In other words, increased Facebook use correlates with improved health because of it's alignment with associated offline activity - which means Facebook's a facilitator of real-world social interactions, as opposed to being a substitute for it.
As noted by the research team:
"Online social interactions seem to be healthiest when they are at moderate levels and complement offline interaction"
Of course, none of this is ground-breaking stuff - people with stronger support and friendship networks live longer, and Facebook helps facilitate such interaction - but it is interesting to note the specifics of the research here, as opposed to the headline findings.
The results also reinforce recent comments made by Simon Sinek on Millennials and the importance of ensuring the next generation of users who've been raised on social media also understand the value of face-to-face, real world interaction.
It's an interesting element to take into account, that the immediacy and access of the internet has increased our expectations to the point where we want everything now, and when we can't get it we feel like we've failed. Sinek argues that people should look to facilitate moments of human connection, without social media or cell phones, as a means to build better relationships and understanding.
Facebook's findings support this. While Facebook can work as a facilitator of real-world relationships - and thus, be used as a measure of your connectivity - it's not, in itself, a means to build your support network.
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