‘FOMO' Is Real: UT Dallas Researchers

Passively browsing social media sites can lead some to feel less good about their own lives, according to study.

Your friends’ lives are not as fabulous as you think they are.

That is the message from a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, who tracked the social media habits of more than 700 students on the Richardson campus.

The study looked at passive browsing of social media — what you’re doing when you just thumb through your feed, lurking and looking at others’ activities — and how that correlates with "poorer well-being."

"For those who are just passively browsing this content, they are getting kind of a skewed perception of how other people are living which may, in turn, have a negative impact on their mental health," said Kaitlyn Burnell, a psychological sciences doctoral student at UT Dallas.

Burnell and her colleague, Justin Vollet, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate at UT Dallas, found that people are far more inclined to post their personal highlights on social media and, therefore, offer up a version of themselves that can lead others to judge themselves negatively by comparison.

"The images that they are seeing are highly curated, and they are depicting the best moments of a person’s life," Vollet said. "So we need to, as we are browsing the sites, be mindful of that and remember that there is a person behind that picture. And all of their days aren’t great, too."

Burnell and Vollet noted that young people, in particular, are susceptible to making these negative comparisons because their "sense of self" is likely to be less defined.

In addition, the researchers found that FOMO — the fear of missing out — is very real for some social media users, and it can have very real consequences including depressive symptoms.

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