New research shows when you’re feeling down, you probably seek out someone feeling even worse.
A bad day can sometimes be made worse by social media—it’s not always fun to see pictures of happy couples when you’re going through a break-up, or statuses trumpeting a friend’s recent promotion when you’ve just clocked tons of unappreciated overtime. That’s why, as new research shows, people often use a sour mood as an excuse to look at those who are also going through a rough patch.
Where better to test the habits of social media than on a college campus? Researchers at Ohio State University surveyed 168 students to see how their moods affected their social media use. The study, published in Computers in Human Behavior revealed that where students clicked correlated to how they felt.
Researchers created profiles through SocialLink, a copycat Facebook website made for this study. They created eight profiles with the photos blurred out, and students were invited to click on any profile to read more about the person. Since they couldn’t make out the photo, all they knew about each profile was the person’s level of “hotness” (marked by hearts) and level of career success (marked by dollar signs), from a scale of 0 to 5. When the participants clicked on any profile, status updates and posts were relatively the same, meaning the only real difference between profiles was the supposed rankings of appearance and success.
The students were randomly primed to be in a good or bad mood, and those in a “bad mood” gravitated towards social profiles of people who seemed unattractive or unsuccessful, whereas the others spent time doing the opposite. From this, researchers inferred that visiting photos of people who seemed “worse off” offered a self-esteem boost.
“One of the great appeals of social network sites is that they allow people to manage their moods by choosing who they want to compare themselves to,” Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, the study’s co-author, said in a statement.
The research didn’t show whether or not students left the study with an improved mood, but if you’re really looking to turn your frown upside down, step away from the screen. There are other fun ways to cheer yourself up.