Facebook, stress, and incidence of upper respiratory infection in undergraduate college students

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Having a large social network is generally beneficial to health. However, it is unclear how Internet-based social networks might influence health. Chronic stress can have negative health consequences, and some data suggest that Facebook could be a new source of psychological stress. Thus, we examined undergraduate college student perceptions of Facebook use and incidence of upper respiratory infections (URIs). We hypothesized that subjects with more diverse networks (i.e., more friends on Facebook) would have fewer URIs than their less diverse counterparts; that subjects reporting Facebook-induced stress would be more susceptible to URIs; and that subjects with more diverse networks who report Facebook-induced stress would be less susceptible to URIs than subjects with less diverse social networks who reported Facebook-induced stress. In this prospective study, healthy college students completed online questionnaires that assessed use and perceptions of Facebook and technology, and then were interviewed weekly for 10 weeks to track incidence of URI. URI episodes were defined by a symptom-based criterion. The social network size was significantly related to the rate of URI, such that, the larger the social network, the greater the incidence rate of URI. Most (85.7 percent) respondents experienced some degree of Facebook-induced stress. The effects of Facebook-induced stress on incidence of URI varied across the social network size, such that, the impact of stress on the URI incidence rate increased with the size of the social network. These results are largely in contrast to our hypotheses, but clearly suggest an association between Facebook use, psychological stress, and health. © Copyright 2012, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 2012.

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