Let’s Hypothesize: Facebook and Envy

For my bachelor thesis, I looked at the relationship between envy, Facebook use, and maximizing. My research was carried out using convenience sampling on a small sample, so while the results were significant, the question is whether these are externally valid. Therefore, this post will be more of a speculation.

In this study, we asked participants to fill out a questionnaire that assessed their Facebook use, envy, and maximization. Questions on the Facebook use scale looked at constructs such as time spent on the social media platform. Envy measured how likely people are to feel desire towards others’ possessions or life experiences. And lastly, the maximization questionnaire measured whether people tend to chase the ‘best’ in their lives. People who score high on this trait tend to always strive for the best possible outcome. This means, for instance, that when they are watching TV and they are already watching a TV show that they like, they will still flip through the other channels to make sure that they are watching the best possible show on TV at the moment. You can imagine that these individuals have a hard time making decisions as well, as they are always on the lookout for something better. This trait can influence relationships, shopping habits, or life satisfaction.

The underlying idea was that those who score high on maximization tend to be more envious of others. Seeing someone else with a better alternative than you do, would then elicit feelings of envy.
Facebook is a virtual space where a lot of social information is shared. This social media platform seems to have a positivity bias, especially before the introduction of the ‘react buttons’. In the past, users were only able to ‘like’ posts. Users can also filter content and decide what they would like to share on Facebook. Thus, users can actively engage in impression management and share information that they want to show publicly. This means that Facebook users might be more likely to post positive information regarding themselves.

Therefore, scrolling down the Facebook timeline, you will be exposed to social information that will be interpreted as positive by most. These can be posts related to successful life events, such as promotions, vacations, weddings, or academic achievements. And of course, you could argue that any of these milestones can elicit envy in any type of person, regardless of whether they score high on maximization or not. However, those who do score high on this trait might feel more envious than others. The problem is, that too much envy, in this case, might lead to stress, life dissatisfaction, or even depression. Because there is a high chance that there will always be someone on your timeline who performed better than you did in any of these categories.

What makes it worse is that maximizers are always on the lookout for information regarding the best possible option. Thus, one could reason that it might be difficult for them to stop using such social media platforms. As the social information that can be found on sites such as Facebook can give them insight into how they are doing themselves. Therefore, the existence of social media has made it almost effortless for these individuals to engage in social comparison. So, if this does lead to depression or a decrease in life satisfaction, it might be a good idea to spend less time on such social platforms.

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