A bit of new research from Germany provides some surprising insight on yet another unintended behavioral side effect of participating in social media on the Web. A team of researchers from the Humboldt-University in Germany and led by Dr. Hanna Krasnova, looked in depth at the reasons why so many people who share social media sites like Facebook with each other end up feeling frustrated by the experience and become jealous of their friends at the end of the day. When the researchers asked adults in Germany about their feelings and thoughts while they were using social media they found that most people admitted that they had experienced negative feelings of frustration and the main reason for that frustration turned out to be that the people were feeling envious of their online friends in some way.
Although social media has been criticized in the past for a number of different and unintended negative effects, the recent German study is the first to assert that seeing your online friends enjoying themselves creates feelings of jealousy in most users. Dr. Krasnova's research team conducted their study to be presented at an upcoming medical/psychological conference in Belgium. The team conducted direct interviews with over 600 German adults and asked each about their feelings while using social media. Over one third of the participants said they had mainly negative feelings of frustration that were caused by jealousy and envy when they saw photos of their friends having fun and enjoying life in ways that the viewers were not. Speaking to the press in Germany, Dr. Krasnova said of the study that "By and large, online social networks allow users unprecedented access to information on relevant others, insights that would be much more difficult to obtain offline." Unfortunately for most social media users, the feelings of jealousy and envy stem from the comparisons that people always seem to make between themselves and their online friends even if they are only distant acquaintances. The researchers found that too many online interactions fall into the category of annoying assaults that put a magnifying glass on the lives of online acquaintances regardless of whether they are actual friends in the real world, or simply people who have interacted online only.
The study also asked the participants where or in what context their envious feelings had occurred and learned that although nearly 70% of the people questioned said their envy had taken place in real time, in real life, a surprising 19% responded that their envy and jealousy had occurred while they were online and using social media. The German research team found the 19% response to be extremely high in terms of relative responses and commented that the study provides evidence that social media sharing sites promote divisiveness and create a breeding ground for hurt feelings. The researchers maintained that users who feel envious of their social media friends often get caught in a spiral of self-promotion and envy that causes them to feel envious of their social media friends and start adding more content to their own profiles in response. The researchers concluded that the behavior and response creates a vicious cycle "where the envy-ridden character of the platform climate can become even more pronounced." Currently active social media users may not like the study's conclusion that shutting down your social media account is the only real way to get out of the cycle once you're caught in it.