Here’s a reason to start accepting more friend requests on Facebook — a new study has found that people who accept more Facebook friends tend to live longer lives, the New York Times reports.
While many people have condemned social media for its effects on our health and behavior, a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests that those who have a large number of friends on Facebook tend to get the same health benefits as those who have lots of friends offline.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, used data provided by Facebook for the paper, which was approved by three university and state review boards. In total, they analyzed 12 million social media profiles that Facebook made available, matching them up with records from the California Department of Health.
All of the Facebook users were born from 1945 to 1989. The researchers preserved the members’ privacy by aggregating the data before analyzing it, they say.
The study found that members with average or large number of Facebook friends lived longer than those who had very small numbers of Facebook friends. It was “a finding consistent with classic studies of offline relationships and longevity,” a spokeswoman at the University of California said in a news release.
The research confirms what scientists have known for a long time about the offline world: People who have stronger social networks live longer.
Researchers found that “moderate use” of Facebook was associated with the lowest mortality rate, and that receiving friend requests was associated with longer lives. Interestingly, sending friend requests was not associated with benefits.
“The results show that receiving requests to connect as friends online is associated with reduced mortality but initiating friendships is not,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
The researchers also found that certain behaviors on Facebook were more linked to longer lives, such as posting photos. Members who mainly used Facebook to send messages were not found to receive any health benefits.
“Additionally, online behaviors that indicate face-to-face social activity (like posting photos) are associated with reduced mortality, but online-only behaviors (like sending messages) have a nonlinear relationship, where moderate use is associated with the lowest mortality.”
One of the authors of the paper, professor of public health and political science James Fowler, said that he was surprised that requesting friends was not associated with a longer lifespan.
“I had hoped we would find that reaching out to others was associated with better health,” he said.
Fowler said that the results suggested that researchers who had previously found that people with more friends were healthier might have misunderstood the relationship between social connections and health. He cautioned that “the reason why people with more friends are healthier is because healthier people have more friends,” meaning that “it may be harder than we thought it was to use social networks to make people healthier.”
Despite the positive correlation between Facebook friends and longer lives, the researchers cautioned against jumping to any conclusions or altering behavior in light of the study.
The authors also acknowledged the study’s limitations, including the fact that the findings represent a correlative relationship and not necessarily a causal one.
“At this point, we’re not making any recommendations on how people should use social media,” fellow author William Hobbs said. “It’s good to have a long track record of finding these relationships again and again before we start giving recommendations.”
Hobbs also cautioned that people had extremely high levels of Facebook interactions with friends and no offline friends, they actually suffered worse health.
“Most Facebook users engaged in moderate levels of online interactions,” he said. “However, when numbers of online interactions were extreme, and when we didn’t see evidence of users being to connected to people offline, we saw associations with worse health.”
[Featured Image by Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com]