How many friends do you have on Facebook? If you are a teen, having more than 300 Facebook friends increases your level of cortisol, which suggests you may be more stressed than those with fewer virtual friends, researchers at the University of Montreal and the Institut universitaire de santé mentale de Montréal say. (Now imagine those who have more than 1,000 Facebook friends.)
The researchers recruited 88 participants between 12 and 17 years old and considered four measurements during their study: frequency of Facebook use, number of virtual friends on the platform, their self-promoting behaviour, and their supportive behaviour. Finally, they were watched for three days, and the researchers collected cortisol samples four times a day during that time.
Sonia Lupien and her colleagues published their findings in the study, entitled “Facebook behaviors associated with diurnal cortisol in adolescents: Is befriending stressful?”
An interesting highlight of the study: supportive actions — e.g., liking a post or sending words of encouragement — decreased the level of cortisol of the participants. While the level of cortisol is affected by multiple factors, the researchers say that the “isolated effect of Facebook on cortisol was around eight percent.”
Other studies have shown that high morning cortisol levels at 13 years increase the risk of suffering from depression at 16 years by 37%. While none of the adolescents suffered from depression at the time of the study, Lupien could not conclude that they were free from an increased risk of developing it. “We did not observe depression in our participants. However, adolescents who present high stress hormone levels do not become depressed immediately; it can occur later on,” Lupien said. “Some studies have shown that it may take 11 years before the onset of severe depression in children who consistently had high cortisol levels.”
This study is the first in the field of cyberpsychology to focus on the effect of Facebook on well-being. You can read the full report in Psychoneuroendocrinology [subscription required].