What is ‘cost of caring’ and why is it stressing out Facebook users?

  • Health
  • Tuesday, 27 Jan 2015

Women are more susceptible to the cost of caring on social media, this increases their stress levels, says study. - Shutterstock

Social media can increase awareness of problems facing friends and family, and this stress is “contagious,” says researchers.

Using your favourite social media does not produce stress on its own.

A report by the Pew Research Center and Rutgers University researchers concluded that the stress facing some users of social networks was related to “the cost of caring.”

“There is no evidence in our data that social media users feel more stress than people who use digital technologies less or not at all,” says Rutgers researcher Keith Hampton, an author of the report.

Hampton says data did not support the notion that people become stressed from keeping up with social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.

But he adds that “learning about and being reminded of undesirable events in other people’s lives makes people feel more stress themselves. This finding about the cost of caring adds to the evidence that stress can be contagious.”

There were, however, some gender differences in how social media use affected stress.

“There was no statistical difference in stress levels between men who use social media, cell phones, or the Internet and men who do not use these technologies,” the researchers wrote.

But “a women who uses Twitter several times per day, sends or receives 25 emails per day, and shares two digital pictures through her mobile phone per day, scores 21% lower on our stress measure than a woman who does not use these technologies at all.”

Facebook can spread stress

In cases where digital technologies increase awareness of stressful events in the lives of others, in particular with Facebook, the researchers found stress to be contagious.

“Facebook was the one technology that, for both men and women, provides higher levels of awareness of stressful events taking place in the lives of both close and more distant acquaintances,” the researchers say.

A woman with an average size network of Facebook friends is aware of 13% more stressful events in the lives of her closest social ties, and men are aware of eight percent more, the study found.

“The cost of caring is particularly felt by women,” the researchers add.

“This is a result of two facts about women and stress: first, women report higher levels of stress to begin with, and second, women are aware of more stressful events in the lives of their friends and family.” – AFP

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