For some teens, having a large number of friends on Facebook appears to be associated with higher levels of stress. A small study has found that teens with more than 300 Facebook friends appear to have higher levels of the stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol levels in early adolescence may influence risk of depression years later, the study noted.
The study was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. The goal was to study associations between Facebook behavior such as frequency of use, number of Facebook friends, and peer interaction with levels of cortisol in teen boys and girls. Researchers at the University of Montreal and the Montreal Mental Health University Institute recruited 88 teens aged 12 to 17 who were asked about their use of Facebook, how many friends they had, their self-promotion behavior on Facebook, the supporting behavior of their friends, and other aspects of their lives. Their cortisol levels were measured four times a day for 3 days.
The researchers found that teens who had more than 300 Facebook friends tended to have higher cortisol levels than those who had fewer friends. They found no association between the frequency of using Facebook and cortisol levels or the frequency of Facebook use and symptoms of depression or self-esteem.
However, the study was small and cortisol levels were measured for only a limited number of days. It is not known if changes in the number of Facebook friends and other metrics cause an increase in stress, or if stress leads to teens seeking out more Facebook friends. There are also many other causes for changes in cortisol levels, but Facebook involvement may have its own effect, senior author Sonia Lupien of Montreal Mental Health University Institute said in a statement.
"We were able to show that beyond 300 Facebook friends, adolescents showed higher cortisol levels; we can therefore imagine that those who have 1,000 or 2,000 friends on Facebook may be subjected to even greater stress," she said.