Scottish researchers claim link between anxiety and friend list

For many, Facebook is a modern day carrier pigeon, transporting information from person to person.

However, new research claims the social networking website might be closer to a beast of burden.

Facebook has more than 500 million active users who combine to spend 700 billion minutes per month on the site, according to company statistics.

Psychologists from Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland published a report last month that claims there is a connection between Facebook friends and symptoms of stress and anxiety.

The researchers involved in the study conducted both one-on-one interviews and focus groups, where 200 students were questioned about their Facebook habits. Of those surveyed, 12 percent said Facebook made them feel anxious. These users averaged 117 friends each. The remaining 88 percent of survey takers said Facebook did not make them feel anxious and had an average friend list of 75 people.

The study claims the more “friends” a Facebook user has, the more likely they are to become stressed. While the study does not provide an accurate cross-section of Facebook users, it does reflect a growing trend experienced by psychologists in the USF Counseling Center, said psychologist Lee Dopfeld.

“No one came in (to the Counseling Center) for Facebook, but people have come in with Facebook as a component of a greater problem or using it as a coping skill is increasing,” Dopfeld said. “Most of the students who we talk about this topic with realize that they are on it too much when it starts to impact other areas of their life.”

While company statistics from Facebook show an average friend list of 130 people among users, 176 of the 200 students used in the sample averaged a friend list of 75 people.

In addition, subjects were skewed according to sex. Most students, 175, took the survey online, with 127 females and 48 males participating in the online survey.

Nonetheless, Dopfeld said experiencing stress due to too much time spent on Facebook is something psychologists are seeing more and more of within the Counseling Center.

“It causes some level of anxiety and/or stress because (one has) to manage each of those individual relationships on some level,” he said. “(One would) have to evaluate them for priority and, at times, be concerned about what all those other people are thinking of (them). How (does one) manage all of those things when there are so many other things in life to deal with?”

He said students can sometimes neglect their responsibilities due to too much time spent on Facebook, or they use Facebook as a procrastination tool in the face of responsibilities, because the site can become a compulsion.

“Compulsive behavior is repetitious behavior,” he said. “What happens is there is an incredible amount of anxiety created when the person is unable to perform a certain behavior or there are a series of repetitive thoughts that causes anxiety unless a certain behavior is introduced to reduce those thoughts.”

Dopfeld said Facebook should not be viewed as a negative entity, but one needs to be aware of when it detracts from other areas of life.

Brittany Fauntleroy, a sophomore majoring in elementary education, said she spends “hours” on Facebook every day.

“I can’t even give you the amount of hours,” Fauntleroy said. “Not even Facebook so much anymore, but Twitter, and Tumblr (more so), but I’ll spend hours on the computer.”

Fauntleroy said she has 21 friends on Tumblr, more than 400 friends on Facebook, and has about a hundred followers on Twitter, and is following about a hundred people as well.

“Facebook itself doesn’t stress me out, but doing homework and trying not to go on Facebook is really stressful,” she said.

Fauntleroy said she wishes she spent less time on social networking websites.

“I would probably get a lot more done,” she said. “It’s like an obsession. I feel like I’m missing out on something if I’m not on there.”

Other data collected in the study said 63 percent of students delayed replying to friend requests, while 32 percent said rejecting friend requests led to feelings of guilt and discomfort and 10 percent admitted disliking receiving friend requests.

Dopfeld said friend requests in and of themselves can be stress inducing.

“It goes to the nature of the individual,” he said. “If you have a lot of trouble saying no to people in general, I think it can be difficult to say no to friend requests on Facebook.”

Justin Brown, a junior majoring in business administration, said keeping up with his 1,300 Facebook friends became so overwhelming he deleted his account.

“I’ve been eight months sober from Facebook,” Brown said. “It does make things a little more difficult, because it is such a part of the social dynamic now. There are thing that I miss about it, being able to connect to people.”

However, Brown said he is happier without the site.

“There were 1,300 people who know too much about me every day,” he said. “I think it took about four weeks and people started asking me, ‘Hey what happened to you, I haven’t heard from you, are we not friends anymore?'”

Brown said his real friends have learned to contact him through other means, such as over the phone or face-to-face, and the experience has only strengthened the relationships he maintains.

While Dopfeld said he has witnessed some of the study’s findings with students, he said the study itself shows correlation, in that both stress and friend lists are increasing simultaneously within the sample set. However, it does not show causality, or a direct relationship between the two factors, where one event is proven to be a consequence of the other.