Research Article: Taking a break: The effect of taking a vacation from Facebook and Instagram on subjective well-being

Date Published: June 6, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Sarah M. Hanley, Susan E. Watt, William Coventry, Jarosław Jankowski.


Social Networking Sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Instagram have relocated a large portion of people’s social lives online, but can be intrusive and create social disturbances. Many people therefore consider taking an “SNS vacation.” We investigated the effects of a one-week vacation from both Facebook and Instagram on subjective well-being, and whether this would vary for passive or active SNS users. Usage amount was measured objectively, using RescueTime software, to circumvent issues of self-report. Usage style was identified at pre-test, and SNS users with a more active or more passive usage style were assigned in equal numbers to the conditions of one-week SNS vacation (n = 40) or no SNS vacation (n = 38). Subjective well-being (life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect) was measured before and after the vacation period. At pre-test, more active SNS use was found to correlate positively with life satisfaction and positive affect, whereas more passive SNS use correlated positively with life satisfaction, but not positive affect. Surprisingly, at post-test the SNS vacation resulted in lower positive affect for active users and had no significant effects for passive users. This result is contrary to popular expectation, and indicates that SNS usage can be beneficial for active users. We suggest that SNS users should be educated in the benefits of an active usage style and that future research should consider the possibility of SNS addiction among more active users.

Partial Text

Taking a vacation from social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Instagram is a relatively new phenomenon, whereby people disconnect from one or all of their SNS for a period of time. Research has found that SNS usage has many benefits, mainly through increasing one’s social capital which positively affects self-esteem and subjective well-being (SWB) [1, 2], but it can also be detrimental to SWB [3–5]. Prior research has shown that taking a break from SNS is often motivated by social disturbances such as feeling bad from upward social comparison, exposure to distorted (overly positive) presentation, feeling meaningless or bored, and interpersonal quarrels [6–11]. However, when people take an SNS vacation, they separate themselves not only from the negative effects of SNS usage but also from its benefits. This raises the question of whether taking an SNS break has positive or negative effects on subjective well-being.

RescueTime recorded, on average, 449 minutes (SD = 43.6) of SNS usage during the baseline monitoring week, with a range from 3 to 1664 minutes. The distribution was positively skewed; median usage was 192 minutes (mode = 5.6). SNS usage at baseline did not differ significantly between the Experimental and Control groups (tlog-transformed SNS usage amount = -.41, p = .69).

Previous studies found that active SNS usage related to increased PA and life satisfaction (subjective well-being) whereas passive usage and more frequent usage related to decreased PA and life satisfaction (see Verduyn [14] for a review). Based on this, people who engage in mainly passive SNS usage could be expected to benefit from an SNS vacation, but people with a more active usage style would not. We tested the effects of a one-week vacation from Facebook and Instagram together, to provide a more complete SNS vacation than taking a break from just one SNS alone. We also circumvented issues of self-report by using software to monitor and block Facebook and Instagram usage, and controlled social desirability effects in reporting life satisfaction by using different questions at pre- and post-test. Participants were recruited from three different countries, and so the findings are not confined to just one national context.

In conclusion, the present study confirmed that active SNS usage is positively related to SWB. Furthermore, the predicted negative relationships with passive usage and SWB were not found. In fact, taking a vacation from SNS for a week was detrimental to more active users’ positive affect, and it did not decrease negative affect or improve life satisfaction. This result is contrary to much popular expectation, and indicates that SNS usage can be beneficial for active users. We suggest that users might be educated on the benefits of active usage, and on ways to improve their positive experience on SNS. We also suggest that this finding is investigated further to assess whether highly active SNS users may experience decreased positivity due to SNS addiction.