Social media users prefer to see positivity on their News Feeds, but a new study found that when people are in a bad mood, they want friends to be in a similar or worse state of mind.
Published in the online journal Computers in Human Behavior, researchers found that people generally connect with others on social networks that post positive updates. But when Facebook users are feeling down, they look to "the less attractive, less successful people on their social media sites" to feel better about themselves.
Ohio State University communications professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, and assistant professor at VU University Amsterdam and co-author of the study Benjamin Johnson conducted a facial emotion recognition test and analyzed the moods of 168 college students. No matter what the participants answered, they were told at random that their performance was either "excellent" to put them in a good mood, or "terrible" to put them in a bad mood.
The participants then reviewed a new social media website the researchers called SocialLink that featured profiles of eight people that appeared to be successful and attractive or unsuccessful and unattractive. The participants were asked to rank the profiles from zero to five on career success and attractiveness, which were signified by dollars and heart signs.
The profile images were blurred out so that the participants could only rank attractiveness based off of the status updates the fake user provided. "So the only real difference between the profiles was the ratings of career success and attractiveness signified by the dollar signs and hearts," says Johnson.
The new study found that the participants spent the most time on the successful and attractive profiles. However, those who were put in bad moods before spent a significant amount of time browsing through the profiles of the unsuccessful.
"When people are in a negative mood, they start to show more interest in the less attractive, less successful people on their social media sites," says Knobloch-Westerwick
The new study adds to recent research that found that seeing happy posts from friends when Facebook users are feeling angry or lonely makes them feel inadequate. "Generally, most of us look for the positive on social media sites," Johnson says. "But if you're feeling vulnerable, you'll look for people on Facebook who are having a bad day or who aren't as good at presenting themselves positively, just to make yourself feel better."