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Oct 04, 2014 08:27 AM EDT

Bad Mood Makes Facebook Users Browse for Unsuccessful People, Study

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Bad mood makes people spend more time on social networking sites like Facebook, according to an Ohio State University study. Researchers said that these Facebook users are more likely to search for friends who are in a worst condition than they are, just to feel better.

When in a normal mood, people use social media to connect with people and read positive and success-oriented updates. However, reverse is the case when a person is in a bad or depressive frame of mind, say researchers.

"But when people are in a negative mood, they start to show more interest in the less attractive, less successful people on their social media sites," said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and professor of communication, in a statement.

Previous studies show that frequent Facebook users are more likely to be frustrated, angry and lonely because happy updates from friends make them feel inadequate.

For the current study, researchers conducted tests on 168 college students. Regardless of their answers, the students were randomly told their performance was "terrible" (to put them in a bad mood) or "excellent" (to put them in a good mood).

Afterward, all participants were asked to review a new social networking site called SocialLink with profiles of eight individuals. The profiles were designed to make them appear either attractive and successful or unattractive and unsuccessful.

Each profile was scored on a scale of 0 to 5 on both career success (number of dollar signs next to their profile) and attractiveness or "hotness" (number of hearts). They had either half of a dollar sign (low career success) or 4 1/2 dollar signs (high career success). They had either one-half heart (low attractiveness) or 4 1/2 hearts (high attractiveness). The profile images were blurred so that participants could not see what they actually looked like.

Researchers found that participants spent more time on profiles rated as successful and attractive. But when they were in a negative mood, participants spent significantly more time than others browsing on profiles rated as unsuccessful and unattractive.

"If you need a self-esteem boost, you're going to look at people worse off than you," Knobloch-Westerwick said. "You're probably not going to be looking at the people who just got a great new job or just got married. "One of the great appeals of social network sites is that they allow people to manage their moods by choosing who they want to compare themselves to."

The finding is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

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