BERLIN - Social networks like Facebook make many things easier. You can find out right away if Alex got the job or not, and you can not only read about Marie’s vacation, but you can also see all those pictures of her on the beach, too.

There’s also a downside to this. Researchers have conducted tests that show that people who spend a lot of time scrolling on Facebook are more socially isolated and more frequently depressed than those who do not.

The question, of course, poses itself: are lonely people more drawn to social networks – or does constant surfing result in loneliness over time?

While it wasn’t able to answer the question conclusively, a joint research study conducted by Berlin’s Humboldt University and the Darmstadt’s Technical University did however reveal that spending time on social networks could lead to negative feelings.

The German researchers, led by Dr. Hanna Krasnova, conducted two studies with 600 Facebook users. The results, which will be presented at the end of February at the "11th International Conference Wirtschaftsinformatik (Information Systems)" at the University of Leipzig, show that Facebook can stir up intense envy and can also negatively impact life satisfaction, particularly for passive users.

People who communicate relatively infrequently but read the posts of friends and click through their pictures tend to be less satisfied with their own life, according to the researchers. They asked their subjects to cite possible reasons for this – why using Facebook could awaken a sense of frustration.

The never-ending “envy spiral”

"Envy" was the answer in nearly 30% of cases, followed by 20% of those who deplored “lack of feedback” to their posts by other users. In 36% of cases, subjects said they “sometimes to very often” felt frustrated by Facebook.

Most envied were the vacations or leisure activities of others, followed by social interactions such as, for example, seeing that a friend got more virtual happy birthday wishes than one had received for one’s own birthday. This is different than face-to-face relations, where envy is fueled by the success, talent and possessions of others.

On social networks on the other hand, everybody tries to come across at their very best, often embellishing their profiles. According to researchers, Facebook “friends” become a reference group against which one starts to compare one’s own popularity and success – and this easily leads to glorifying others and putting them above oneself, i.e. the perfect recipe for feelings of envy. Researchers coined the phrase “envy spiral” to describe this phenomenon.

"Envy can proliferate on social networks and become even more intense in the case of passive users," the researchers write. "Considering the fact that Facebook use is a worldwide phenomenon and envy is a universal feeling, a lot of people are subject to these painful consequences," said the study.