Warning: Friends May Be Less Happy Than They Appear
/ The Dartmouth Staff
Check your Facebook and you’re likely to see dozens of pictures of smiling friends and acquaintances apparently enjoying themselves. The truth of their emotional lives, however, may be a bit more complicated than online social networks would have you think.
A new study authored by Tuck graduate student Alexander Jordan and published by Stanford University finds that people overestimate the happiness of their peers and believe themselves to be lonelier than their friends. This phenomenon is exacerbated by the information people choose reveal on social networking sites like Facebook, the study concluded.
“Misery Has More Company Than People Think: Underestimating the Prevalence of Others’ Negative Emotions,” published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in December surveyed approximately 460 first-year students at Stanford. The study found that participants hid their negative emotions more than positive ones and overestimated their peers’ happiness.
Participants in the study kept a diary for 10 weeks and recorded their emotional experiences. Friends of each participant also described the participant’s happiness during the study. Those friends had a “grass is greener on the other side” view, consistently estimating the participants were happier than they really were.
Even people with many close friends tend to say they are lonely and underestimate other people’s unhappiness, the study concluded.
“Simply being aware of our biases in perceiving others’ emotional lives might be helpful in correcting those biases,” Jordan said in an email to The Dartmouth.
Jordan became interested in the subject of happiness and online networking when he noticed how his friends were negatively affected by what they saw their friends post online. This might be because they didn’t realize how selective people are with the information they choose to share, he thought.
“When you browse Facebook, Twitter, and so forth, consuming the constant stream of smiling photos and announcements of adventure from friends and family, remember that the portrait of these lives you're receiving may be as heavily edited and fictionalized as any television drama,” Jordan said.