Social Media Schadenfreude Is a Real Thing

Have you ever felt down about the way things were going, and so in an effort to lift your spirits, checked an old acquaintance’s Facebook profile to see how your life stacks up against theirs? If so, a new study says you’re not the only one.

A new study from Ohio State University seems to indicate that social media schadenfreude is a bonafide trend. It suggests that when people are feeling down, they tend to be more interested in the social media profiles of people whom they consider to be worse off than themselves than the profiles of those who seem to be doing better than them.

The study involved nearly 170 college students. First, researchers used praise or criticism to help put the subjects into a good or a bad mood. They were then told to peruse a new social network called SocialLink, which featured a preview of eight similar profiles. Each one had a different level of “hotness” and “career success.” Researchers made some profiles appear to be less physically attractive, and other profiles appear to be less successful.

The subjects who were put into negative moods wound up spending significantly more time on the lower-ranked profiles — presumably because of how they were feeling about themselves at the time.

According to the study’s authors, “Participants appeared motivated to repair their affective states through selective exposure to downward comparisons that could restore their mood and through selective avoidance of upward comparisons that could lead to further self-deflation and mood damage.”

This isn’t the first study to find such results, either. Similar research suggests that viewing the profiles of people who aren’t doing as well as the viewer can raise his or her self-esteem, and even lighten the mood.

The study joins the much larger ranks of research that demonstrate the Internet’s impact on our psychology — how it can act as a mirror to show us how flawed we can be. As our real-world social lives become more and more intertwined with our online social lives, such studies will become a more important part of modern psychology.

The study also raises a rather haunting question, as well: are your friends checking up on your Facebook to see what you’re up to, or to see how you’re doing?

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