In a small study of Facebook users in Poland, depression was one predictor of greater vulnerability to becoming dependent on using the social media site.
So-called Facebook intrusion is similar to an addiction, but the emphasis is on the way a person’s relationships with others are affected.
Being young, male and spending a lot of time online also predicted a greater likelihood of unhealthy dependence on Facebook.
“We know a little bit already about Facebook usage and personality,” said Dr. Robert Cloninger, a psychiatrist with the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis who wasn’t involved in the study.
Cloninger told Reuters Health that he is concerned the study didn’t properly take personality traits into consideration. “If you are introverted and socially shy, then your social skills may not be very good,” he said. “So using your intelligence to navigate the Internet allows you to create an image that may not be very accurate, but that gets you social contacts - it’s like you can kind of live a lie or a fantasy on the Internet.”
For the study published in European Psychiatry, Agata Blachnio, a researcher at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin and her colleagues recruited Polish Facebook users to answer questionnaires, including mental health tests.
The main goal, Blachnio’s team writes, was to examine “potential associations” between Internet use in general, Facebook in particular and depression.
“A large body of research . . . shows that Internet addiction often co-occurs with other disorders, such as depression, loneliness, sexual dysfunction, or other addictions,” the study team writes. “The main aim of our study was to answer the question of whether depression and daily Internet use time was related to Facebook intrusion.”
They define Facebook intrusion as “excessive involvement in Facebook, disrupting day-today activities and interpersonal relationships.”
Blachnio and her colleagues enrolled 672 native Polish-speaking participants between the ages of 15 and 75. The average age of the participants was about 28, and almost two thirds were women. Each participant answered two questionnaires. One was designed to measure levels of Facebook intrusion, and the other to detect depression.
The study team found that the amount of time spent on the Internet daily was positively associated with levels of Facebook intrusion, and that Facebook intrusion was linked with higher depression scores.
But time spent on the Internet every day was not linked to depression. Cloninger said that people likely to become addicted to Facebook are those who are low in self directedness and high at novelty seeking. These people use social media sites like Facebook as a substitute for meeting people face to face and keep other people at a distance, he added.
“That just doesn’t give you real intimacy; it doesn’t build your capacity for trust and confidential relationships that are really deep and honest,” he said.
Cloninger thinks a lot of people using Facebook in this manner are also vulnerable to being shamed and rejected.
“The people who try to use it are the ones who are going to be the most vulnerable to being shamed and attacked and rejected and not being able to handle crisis well,” he said.
“You’ve got this paradox of the people most likely to use it are the ones who are then going to be most vulnerable to its dangers,” he said.