Schadenfacebook | Hidden Brain Many studies have shown that people who use social media may be unhappier than those who don't. This week on Hidden Brain, we explore the psychological effect social media has on us.

When It Comes To Our Lives On Social Media, 'There's Always Another Story'

When It Comes To Our Lives On Social Media, 'There's Always Another Story'

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Dan Sipple/Getty Images/Ikon Images
Social media symbols forming noise around woman plugging ears
Dan Sipple/Getty Images/Ikon Images

Have you ever looked at a friend's posts on Facebook or Instagram and wondered what's really going on in that person's life? Is it really all delicious meals and adorable kids and fabulous trips overseas, or is there more happening beneath the surface?

For a long time, Rachel Leonard felt pressure to post only positive news about her life. Even photos of the view from her front porch were carefully edited before she shared them.

"If you looked only straight you could see mountains," she said. "If you looked to the left you'd see a factory, but of course I didn't take pictures of the factory, because why would you do that?"

Plenty of us follow a similar strategy on social media. Posts about engagements and babies will receive ravenous applause. News about a grandparent passing away will elicit virtual hugs. But fears about not making rent? Marital tensions? Hesitations about becoming a parent? Those sorts of posts – posts that show ambivalence – are verboten.

It turns out, all our social media curation is having an effect – both on the people sharing these posts, and on those reading them. Many studies have shown that people who use social media frequently appear to be unhappier than those who don't.

But until recently, it was impossible to say whether this was correlation or causation. Do lonely people spend more time on social media in an effort to escape their loneliness? Or is social media itself causing people to feel isolated?

A recent study at Tel Aviv University has provided what may be the first experiment to sort out causation from correlation.

This week, we'll learn the results of that study and others exploring how social media can shape the way we view our friends' lives, and our own.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, and Renee Klahr, and Chloe Connelly. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.