Many of us have experienced the fear of missing out, so many in fact that FOMO got added to the Oxford English Dictionary back in 2013. It's the worry that our peers are happier and more successful than we are. They're going to parties that we aren't, having way more exciting romantic relationships than we are, kissing more kittens.
Not surprisingly, researchers have linked frequent use of social networking sites to increased FOMO. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms, we're now regularly consuming evidence of every time our friends didn't invite us to a dinner, or when they've had a lovely moment that we're envious of.
A new study out of Nottingham Trent University examined how we handle that anxiety and what it means for our overall self-esteem. The results show a cluster of links between increased use of social media and lower self-esteem, all mediated through FOMO and a previously unresearched factor: online vulnerability. That's our exposure to negative feedback online, like critical or hurtful comments, harassment and stalking.
The study participants, a final sample of 489 people ages 13 to 77 years, completed an online survey about themselves and their Facebook habits. This data included the number of people in their social network and their willingness to share personal and emotional information with that network. The researchers also asked questions to determine the participants' online vulnerability and to evaluate their self-esteem.
The researchers crunched all this data using structural equation modeling, which is a type of statistical modeling that can identify associations among abstract variables (like "anxiety" and "self-esteem"). They found that when the study subjects experienced FOMO due to Facebook, it drove some of those subjects to share and participate more on Facebook — likely in an attempt to receive outside validation and boost their self-esteem. But that also opened the subjects to experiencing more negativity, which meant their self-esteem took another hit. Which drove them to share and participate more, which – you get the idea. The researchers described the cycle as a sort of self-imposed or self-regulated limbo.
It's important to note that although 489 participants is a decent sample size, it's small enough that the participants may not be a true sample of the overall population. Furthermore, the subjects skewed young – over half were between the ages of 13 and 17 years – and the adults were recruited via online advertisements – a self-selected population.
Also important: This study certainly doesn't say that ALL users of Facebook and other social networking sites experience negative psychological effects. What this study is saying is that when a person does get anxious because of what they see on social media and then attempts to fix their anxiety with more social media, that can be damaging.
And this study's results imply some excellent advice: If you're bummed out by the internet, seek out better times offline instead of diving digitally deeper.
Speaking of missing out, don't forget to check out the video above for more info on FOMO.