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“Green-eyed monster” may stalk Facebook—and users’ lives

Jan. 21, 2013
Courtesy of Tech­ni­cal Uni­vers­ity of Darm­stadt
and World Science staff

En­vy is a fre­quent and un­pleas­ant com­pan­ion to many Face­book users, es­pe­cially more pas­sive ones, a new study sug­gests.

The total effect of this phe­nom­e­non on the world’s mood might not be small, re­search­ers added, con­sid­er­ing about a se­venth of the global pop­ulation is sub­scribed to the so­cial net­work­ing web­site. 

Re­search­ers Pe­ter Bux­mann of the Tech­ni­cal Uni­vers­ity of Darm­stadt, Ger­many, and Han­na Kras­nova of the Hum­boldt Uni­vers­ity in Ber­lin sur­veyed users about their feel­ings af­ter us­ing Face­book. More than a third re­ported pre­dom­i­nantly neg­a­tive feel­ings, such as frustra­t­ion, the re­search­ers said. Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­t­ion point­ed to en­vy of “Face­book friends” as the key rea­son, they added. 

“Although re­spon­dents were re­luc­tant to ad­mit feel­ing en­vi­ous while on Face­book, they of­ten pre­sumed that en­vy can be the cause be­hind the frustra­t­ion of oth­ers” us­ing the site, Kras­nova ex­plained. That’s “a clear in­dica­t­ion that en­vy is a sa­li­ent phe­nomenon” for users, she added. On­line so­cial net­works al­low users un­prec­e­dent­ed ac­cess to in­forma­t­ion on peo­ple’s peer­s—in­sights that would be much harder to ob­tain of­fline, she added.

“Those who do not en­gage in any ac­tive, in­ter­per­son­al com­mu­nica­t­ions on so­cial net­works and pri­marily uti­lize them as sources of in­forma­t­ion, e.g. read­ing friends’ post­ings, check­ing news feeds, or brows­ing through pho­tos, are par­tic­u­larly sub­ject to these pain­ful ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Mak­ing mat­ters worse, en­vy prods some users to em­bel­lish their Face­book pro­files—stir­ring fur­ther en­vy in oth­er users, and lead­ing to an “en­vy spi­ral,” the re­search­ers said.

The study al­so found that about a fifth of all re­cent events that had pro­voked en­vy among the re­spon­dents took place with­in a Face­book con­text. Vaca­t­ion pho­tos, “par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar among Ger­man users,” pro­voke in­or­di­nate amounts of en­vy, said study col­la­bo­ra­tor Thom­as Wid­jaja of the Tech­ni­cal Uni­vers­ity. More­o­ver, the re­sults sug­gested that the en­vy is linked to low­er life sat­is­fac­tion.

“Con­sid­er­ing the fact that Face­book use is a world­wide phe­nom­e­non and en­vy is a uni­ver­sal feel­ing, a lot of peo­ple are sub­ject to these pain­ful con­se­quences,” said co-author Hel­e­na Wen­ninger, al­so of the Tech­ni­cal Uni­vers­ity.

The find­ings are to be pre­sented at the In­terna­t­ional Con­fer­ence on In­forma­t­ion Sys­tems (Wirt­schafts­in­form­at­ik) in Leip­zig, Ger­many, Feb. 27 through March 1. The re­search­ers plan to con­duct a fol­low-up sur­vey on the con­se­quenc­es of Face­book-related en­vy in var­i­ous cul­tures.


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Envy is a frequent and unpleasant companion to many Facebook users, especially more passive ones, a new study suggests. Researchers Peter Buxmann of the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, and Hanna Krasnova of the Humboldt University in Berlin surveyed Facebook users about their feelings after using the website. More than a third reported predominantly negative feelings, such as frustration, the researchers found. Further investigation pointed to envy of “Facebook friends” is the key reason, they added. “Although respondents were reluctant to admit feeling envious while on Facebook, they often presumed that envy can be the cause behind the frustration of others” using the site, Krasnova explained. That’s “a clear indication that envy is a salient phenomenon” for users, she added. Online social networks allow users unprecedented access to information on people’s peers—insights that would be much harder to obtain offline, she added. “Those who do not engage in any active, interpersonal communications on social networks and primarily utilize them as sources of information, e.g. reading friends’ postings, checking news feeds, or browsing through photos, are particularly subject to these painful experiences.” Making matters worse, envy prods some users to embellish their Facebook profiles—stirring further envy in other users, and leading to an “envy spiral,” the researchers said. The study also found that about a fifth of all recent events that had provoked envy among the respondents took place within a Facebook context. Vacation photos, “particularly popular among German users,” stir up an inordinate amount of envy, said study collaborator Thomas Widjaja of the Technical University. Moreover, the results suggested that the envy is linked to lower life satisfaction. “Considering the fact that Facebook use is a worldwide phenomenon and envy is a universal feeling, a lot of people are subject to these painful consequences,” said co-author Helena Wenninger, also of the Technical University. The findings are to be presented at the International Conference on Information Systems (Wirtschaftsinformatik) in Leipzig, Germany, Feb. 27 through March 1. The researchers plan to conduct a follow-up survey on the consequences of Facebook-related envy in various cultures.