Social interactions via Facebook may extend life, according to new study

Facebook may be good for your health, suggests a new UC San Diego study.

For the study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers used California Department of Public Health vital records to compare 12 million Facebook users to nonusers. They studied counts of online activity over six months, comparing the activity of those still living to those who had died. All of those studied were born between 1945 and 1989, and all the comparisons were made between people of similar age and gender. The researchers' goal was to assess whether social media use is associated with longer life.

The study was led by UC San Diego researchers William Hobbs and James Fowler, collaborating with colleagues at Facebook and New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University.

Research showed that receiving requests to connect as friends online is associated with reduced mortality but initiating friendships is not.

In a given year, the study found the average Facebook user was about 12 percent less likely to die than nonusers, according to a news release. But, researchers noted, this may be due to social or economic differences between the user and nonuser groups.

Among Facebook users, the researchers looked at numbers of friends, numbers of photos and status updates, numbers of wall posts and messages sent, to see if people who were more active lived longer. In these comparisons, they controlled their analysis not only for age and gender but also relationship status, length of time on Facebook, and smartphone use as an indicator of income.

People with average or large social networks, in the top 50 to 30 percent, lived longer than those in the lowest 10 — a finding consistent with classic studies of offline relationships and longevity.

Researchers said they also found online behaviors indicative of face-to-face social activity (like posting photos) were associated with reduced mortality, but online-only behaviors (like sending messages) have a nonlinear relationship, where moderate use is associated with the lowest mortality.

"These results suggest that online social integration is linked to lower risk for a wide variety of critical health problems," the researchers wrote. "Although this is an associational study, it may be an important step in understanding how, on a global scale, online social networks might be adapted to improve modern populations' social and physical health."



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