Receiving many Facebook friend requests is linked to longevity, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Okay, that sounds silly at first especially as widespread critic claim social networks actually produce addiction and isolation from the real world.

A team of researchers has found that this particular service helps maintain strong, real-life relationships and is therefore associated with lower mortality. By analyzing the Facebook activity of 12 million users and comparing it with data of registered California voters, scientists discovered that people who received and accepted many friend requests were about 12 percent less likely to die over a two-year period than users who did not.

People using social media
Researchers have found a link between Facebook friend requests and life expectancy. Image credit: The Huffington Post.

The researchers had known for decades that social integration was related to longevity, but they wanted to find out whether that fact was also true regarding online interactions.

These findings contradict claims that online networks such as Facebook were taking up time and energy that people would otherwise spend in face-to-face social relationships.

Michael Macy, a computational scientist at Cornell University who was not involved in the study, said these claims and thoughts motivated the team to conduct this research, according to Los Angeles Times. The study authors found just the opposite.

However, Facebook users should be careful. Lead author William Hobbs, who conducted the research as a UC Sand Diego doctoral student in political science, noted in a statement that online interactions are only healthy when the activity is moderate and serves to complement face-to-face interactions, as reported by CBS News.

Hobbs, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University, added that spending a lot of time online and not showing signs of being connected to people in the real world has a negative impact on health as it is associated with mortality. His colleagues remarked that the study was observational and did not prove that Facebook directly leads to longevity although health benefits do exist when online interactions show evidence of strong offline connections.

Trying to make more friends does not correlate to longevity

It is worth noting that the research team found no correlation between lower mortality and how many friend requests users sent. This means that simply trying to make more friends does not provide health benefits.

The scientists also found that those who received the most friend requests were 34 percent most likely to live longer in the study period than those who received and accepted the least friend requests.

“Unfortunately, what this suggests is that it’s possible that the causal arrow is reversed. That it’s not that friends make us healthier, it’s that healthier people attract more friends or that popular people tend to be healthier,” study author James Fowler, a professor of political science in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences, told CBS News.

Fowler pointed out that previous research on health benefits provided by strong, offline relationships were almost unable to tell which of two people started the friendship, which was key to this research.

This evidence could translate to the efforts brands make to attract fans and customers on social media. The success could be measured by how those customers interact with the brand as a consequence of its “healthy” appearance.

The more brands post on social networks about themselves and send friend requests without actually engaging people, the less effective their strategy is. The same concept of this research can easily apply as brands are managed by humans trying to reach other humans. However, it would be interesting to learn about a study exclusively focused on social media marketing.

Source: LA Times