Passive following on Facebook linked with Fear of Missing Out, says new study

13 November 2018

A new study by researchers at the University of Derby has shown a significant link between people’s passive following on Facebook – scrolling through newsfeeds without interacting – and their Fear of Missing Out, which can impact their feelings of life satisfaction.

Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) is the continuous desire to be connected online, accompanied by the worry that others are having more rewarding life experiences which you are excluded from. The study found that those who experienced high levels of FoMO were less likely to be satisfied with their lives.

Previous studies have investigated Facebook’s positive and negative psychological impact on users, particularly relating to their psychological wellbeing and life satisfaction.

The new University of Derby study, co-authored by Dr Zaheer Hussain, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, found that life satisfaction can be impacted by a wide range of social networking-related experiences, such as social comparison and FoMO. The study was based on a sample of 196 Facebook users, with an average age of 31, who completed an online survey consisting of a range of psychometric tools to assess their mental capabilities and behavioural style.

A significant positive link was found between social comparison and life satisfaction, suggesting that people who tend to compare themselves with others on Facebook are more likely to feel more satisfied with their lives, possibly due to using Facebook for self-evaluation and self-improvement.

Dr Hussain said: “Previous studies have shown that social comparison causes lower levels of life satisfaction among adolescents, who are more vulnerable to negative emotions as a result of such comparisons and typically experience lower levels of self-evaluation. The relatively high level of life satisfaction found in our study may be due to participants using Facebook as a tool for self-improvement, possibly as a result of their average age – at 31, they were closer to middle adulthood.”

Higher levels of social comparison and self-esteem, and lower levels of FoMO, are linked to increased life satisfaction. Facebook use is associated with increased social connections, self-esteem, enhanced identity development, increased social support, and decreased loneliness.

On the negative side, problematic Facebook use has been associated with lower levels of belonging, self-esteem and life satisfaction. Dr Hussain’s study suggests that Facebook users’ life satisfaction may only be affected under certain circumstances, such as problematic or intense use.

Dr Hussain said: “Social networking sites allow users to construct a public profile, create connections with others, share personal and social content, and communicate through messaging and online real-time conversations. People use these sites for communication and connectedness with others, the need for extensive social and political engagement, avoidance of loneliness and boredom, enjoyment, escape from emotional frustrations and self-esteem enhancement.

“In our study, passive following on Facebook was common among participants. Passive following does not contribute to communication among users, and only provides the feeling of connectedness. One explanation for passive following could be that the online friends you become connected to are not necessarily the people you wish to keep in contact with. This can be particularly true  for those who only use Facebook for professional purposes, wanting to have their work displayed to as many as people as possible, including those they might not wish to be friends with.”

Read Dr Hussain’s full study here. Read Dr Hussain’s blog here.

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