Nobody wants to be stressed, as we all know that stress can be bad for our health. If you want to be less stressed, a good place to start is Facebook. Having a ‘cull’ of your Facebook friends and limiting their number is a great way to instantly feel better. This is according to research soon to be published in the journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology in January 2016.
Psychoneuroendocrinology publishes papers dealing with the interrelated disciplines of psychology, neurobiology, endocrinology, immunology, neurology, and psychiatry, with an emphasis on multidisciplinary studies aiming at integrating these disciplines in terms of either basic research or clinical implications.
It was determined in their limited study that teenagers who have a Facebook friends group of more than 300 individuals actually had higher cortisol levels than those with fewer friends. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone.
The stress hormone, cortisol, is public health enemy number one. Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels: interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease… The list goes on and on.
The journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology expressed particular concerns about the link between raised cortisol levels in teens and depression. Leading on the study was Sonia J. Lupien, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience and works at the University of Montreal. She studied 88 individual teenagers, asking them about the way they use Facebook and about the number of friends they have. The study has been reported on in Neuroscience News.
Lupien and her colleagues recruited 88 participants aged 12-17 years who were asked about their frequency of use of Facebook, their number of friends on the social media site, their self-promoting behaviour, and finally, the supporting behaviour they displayed toward their friends. Along with these four measures, the team collected cortisol samples of the participating adolescents. The samples were taken four times a day for three days.
Some people are questioning why it is important to study the way teenagers use Facebook at all. The researchers explained that it is actually of vital importance because teenagers go through tremendous developments during their adolescence, which is a period when their brain changes on an almost daily basis. Of particular concern is the effect of glucocorticoids, which are stress hormones, as these are known to change the way the brain develops. This means that if teenagers experience high levels of stress, their brain may actually develop in unexpected and, perhaps, negative ways.
According to Lupien, Facebook’s isolated effect on levels of cortisol is likely to be around the 8% mark, which is highly significant. The study used what is known as hierarchical regression models to calculate findings.
Hierarchical Models (aka Hierarchical Linear Models or HLM) are a type of linear regression models in which the observations fall into hierarchical, or completely nested levels. Hierarchical Models are a type of Multilevel Models.
This is an accepted method of drawing conclusions. Interestingly, the hierarchical models also enabled the researchers to find a significant positive development to the usage of Facebook in teens. This is finding that those who used Facebook in a positive and proactive manner, i.e. by being supportive of friends in their comments and by liking their posts, actually had significantly lower levels of cortisol.
This effectively means that the conclusions are somewhat contradictory. It seems, in other words, that it is not so much how many friends someone has, but how they interact with each other, with positive interaction having a positive effect on the stress hormone. Interestingly, there was no measurable link between cortisol levels and the amount of time a teen spent on Facebook.