People whose Facebook social networks lead to offline interactions live longer than those who use the social media website but are more reclusive, UC San Diego researchers reported Monday.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that Facebook users with average or large social networks, in the top 50 to 30 percent, lived longer than those in the lowest 10 percent.
They also discovered that in a given year, the average Facebook user is about 12 percent less likely to die than someone who doesn’t use the site. The latter result could be skewed by different socioeconomic circumstances between users and nonusers, they said.
“Interacting online seems to be healthy when the online activity is moderate and complements interactions offline,” said William Hobbs, one of the study’s primary authors. “It is only on the extreme end, spending a lot of time online with little evidence of being connected to people otherwise, that we see a negative association.”
The researchers matched vital records from the California Department of Public Health with around 12 million Facebook users in the state.
They studied counts of online activity over six months and compared the activity of those still living to those who had died. All of the subjects were born between 1945 and 1989, and the comparisons were made between people of similar age and gender, according to UCSD.
The researchers looked at the amount of friends, photos and status updates, numbers of wall posts sent and messages sent, to see if people who were more active lived longer. They controlled their analysis for age, gender, relationship status, length of time on Facebook and smartphone use — an indicator of income.
Those on Facebook with the highest levels of offline social integration — as measured by posting more photos, which suggests face-to-face social activity — have the greatest longevity. Moderate levels of use of the website were associated with the lowest mortality, according to UCSD.
They found people who accepted friendships more often lived longer, but no correlation was found for people who initiated friend requests.
“The association between longevity and social networks was identified by Lisa Berkman in 1979 and has been replicated hundreds of times since,” said political science professor James Fowler.
“In fact, a recent meta-analysis suggests the connection may be very strong,” said Fowler, a senior author of the study. “Social relationships seem to be as predictive of lifespan as smoking, and more predictive than obesity and physical inactivity.”
Researchers at Yale University and officials at Facebook participated in the study.
— City News Service
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