Go ahead — check those notifications. According to a new pilot study conducted by Dr. Alice Good of the University of Portsmouth, the vast majority of Facebook users use the social network to lift their spirits when they’re feeling down by navigating their old photos and wall posts in which they’ve interacted with family and friends — a “self-soothing” coping mechanism somewhat akin to flipping through a photo album or watching old home videos.
Researchers argue that that could be a big boost for users who are prone to anxiety or depression by providing a healthy emotional conduit for reminiscing about the good times in one’s life. The findings also shed new light into what, exactly, users are looking to achieve when they use social media to share their feelings and experiences:
Psychologist Dr Clare Wilson, also of the University of Portsmouth, said: “Although this is a pilot study, these findings are fascinating.
“Facebook is marketed as a means of communicating with others. Yet this research shows we are more likely to use it to connect with our past selves, perhaps when our present selves need reassuring.
“The pictures we often post are reminders of a positive past event. When in the grip of a negative mood, it is too easy to forget how good we often feel. Our positive posts can remind us of this.”
Dr Good’s study has concluded that looking at comforting photos, known as reminiscent therapy, could be an effective method of treating mental health. [...]
The act of self-soothing is an essential tool in helping people to calm down, especially if they have an existing mental health condition.
The findings are particularly interesting given past studies that have indicated that Facebook users end up feeling depressed after a browsing session. For instance, one German study found that “one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their lives, while people who browsed without contributing were affected the most.”
But those findings derived from users’ envy at their friends’ vacations, life milestones, and various successes. The new preliminary data from Dr. Good’s study suggests that, used in a different way — i.e., actively “self-soothing” rather than passively sulking — browsing through one’s Facebook history could be a net benefit. And that could be very good news from a global mental health perspective for the social network, which has over a billion users worldwide and counting.