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Published: Thursday, 2/7/2013

Liked too much

Can a friend be a menace? Yes, if your well-meaning friends represent lots of “likes” on Facebook. That’s what researchers say about the impact of too many “likes,” which undermine the self-discipline of Facebook users in big ways.

Positive Facebook feedback is generating increases in self-confidence that result in a license to reward oneself for being a “good” person, researchers conclude. This boost in self-esteem is followed by a loss of self-control, resulting in a host of ills.

Instead of sticking to one’s diet, for instance, a person with heightened self-esteem caused by many “likes” on Facebook may drop a laudable goal such as losing weight, according to two professors who are studying what they call the “licensing effect” of Facebook.

Their report concludes that above-average social-media engagement can lead to “a higher body-mass index, increased binge eating, a lower credit score, and higher levels of credit card debt.” Users appear to get a burst of approval that leads to splurges, whether in the form of extra food intake or online shopping sprees.

The study is based on experiments with 1,000 American Facebook subscribers. The study’s results surprised the researchers, who didn’t expect to find a correlation between heavy Facebook use and elevated self-esteem. They found that those who use Facebook casually or hardly at all don’t experience heightened self-esteem from “likes” on the site.

The researchers say they are trying to understand how advertisers can use their insights for commercial purposes, even while they seek to advise Facebook’s millions of users to keep their “likes” under control. This may be one example in which it is better to have friends than to be “liked.”

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