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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Brown Researchers Study Whether Negative Facebook Experiences Are Associated with Depressive Symptoms among Young Adults

In the past decade, Internet use has grown rapidly, particularly the use of social media such as Facebook, which are virtual gathering places. FB has three times as many subscribers as there are U.S. citizens. In a recent report, 95% of adults aged 18–33 years reported use of the Internet, the highest proportion among any age group, 83% of whom reported SM use. Research on SM use has focused on adolescents and college students; there have been no studies among young adults older than college age. Yet the transition from adolescence to early adulthood is a vulnerable developmental stage in which an individual’s support system (including online social supports) can influence psychopathology and risk behaviors.


[Photo: Dr. Samantha Rosenthal]

This study, by Dr. Samantha Rosenthal, Research Associate in Epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health, and colleagues, examined whether negative Facebook experiences were independently associated with depressive symptoms among young adults in a longitudinal family cohort.

Negative Facebook experiences were measured by type (e.g., bullying or meanness, unwanted contact, misunderstandings, or any), recency, number of experiences, and severity of upset. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the 10-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Generalized estimating equations were used to account for sibling correlation; adjusted models were constructed for each negative Facebook experience measure accounting for sex, race/ethnicity, social support, adolescent depressive symptoms, parental psychological distress, average monthly income, educational attainment, and employment. In a sample of 264 young adults, all negative FB experience measures were significantly associated with depressive symptoms.

This study found a clear association between negative Facebook experience and depressive symptoms. Future work should examine: (1) whether negative FB experiences cause incident depression or exacerbate preexisting depression; and (2) who is most prone to being upset by negative Facebook experiences. With further research, recommendations for limiting or altering Facebook use among high-risk sub-populations could be useful in reducing depressive symptoms.

This study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, August 2016.

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