Seeing other people’s holiday snaps online makes us sad, research suggests.
Nine in ten Facebook users admitted to feeling low when they see friends’ travel posts.
Millennials tend to react by going on a digital detox and cutting down on their Facebook use, the University of Edinburgh study found.
But the researchers found people born before 1980 said they simply booked a holiday when struck by “travel envy”.
Surveys of 860 Facebook users also showed women tended to become envious of friends spending time with their partners or family.
Men were more likely to react by feeling they were missing out on adventure instead – which is known as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
Researchers said their findings show an unwelcome side effect of people comparing their own lives to others on social media.
Lead Researcher Dr Ben Marder, at the University of Edinburgh Business School, said: “This sheds scholarly light on why vacation posts are indeed ‘tyrannous’ to their viewers.
“These findings help us understand the emotional and behavioural outcomes of viewing travel posts.
“They show how those somewhat idyllic posts by friends on social media are likely to make us feel sad in our own lives and take measures to make us feel happier.”
Responses to the study showed people’s most common negative emotion to seeing idyllic holiday snaps was feeling that they were too stressed.
The next two were that they weren’t spending enough time with their loved ones and that their lives were boring, surveys of 80 people for the study found.
Dr Marder said: “Younger people in the interviews, those aged less than 50, often remarked either about their own motivation to go on holiday to ‘show off’ their exotic, expensive vacations to others (desiring “likes” as affirmation), or believed their Facebook friends to have this motivation, often expressed through the term bragging.”
Dr Marder said friend’s boastful Facebook holiday snaps had the opposite effect of intentional holiday advertising online – where users become excited by what they see.
His team tested how people dealt with the three typical responses to “travel envy” by showing them pictures of people on holiday with captions saying they were relaxed and having new experiences with their loved ones.
They asked 760 people with an average age of 36.8 to imagine they were seeing the images on a friend’s Facebook post and analysed their responses to feelings they lacked ‘belonging’, ‘exploration’ and ‘relaxation’.
Dr Marder said: “It was crucial that the stimuli were idealised depictions of vacations; showed the traveller was having a relaxing time; had an element of exploration; and indicated a shared experience.
“Pictures of dining tables on a beach [Palm Springs] and with a mountain view [Colorado] were chosen, accompanied with the following text: ‘First day dinner, looking forward to an amazing week of sun and [mountains/sea] in [Colorado/Palm
Springs] with my love #qualitytime’.”
He said the responses revealed a differences between how millennials and Generation X Facebook users dealt with negative feelings after seeing the images.
Dr Marder said: “In a number of cases, a path was found to be significant for one group but not the other.”
Women, Generation X and frequent travellers tended to feel ‘dejected’ because they valued ‘belonging’ more than their respective counterparts.
The baby boomers and jet-setters also valued ‘exploration’ relatively highly as opposed to Generation Y – Milllennials and people who tend to stay at home.
Women and Generation X participants were more likely to deal with these feeling by “direct resolution” – booking holidays rather than avoiding Facebook.
And people who posted a lot of holiday snaps on Facebook and Instagram were more likely to react by “dissociation” and go on social media detoxes instead.
Of those, only ones who had been on holiday recently were more likely to carry out “escapism” techniques such as going “retail therapy” shopping binges.
Dr Marder said: “Furthermore, the link between feelings of dejection and the direct resolution behaviour of booking is only established for females and Generation X/baby boomers.
“The effect of feelings of dejection on escapism and symbolic self-completion behaviour was only established for high-intensity Facebook users versus low intensity.
“Feelings of dejection were only found to lead to dissociation through reducing social media usage in participants who vacation more frequently and who had been on vacation more recently compared to their counterparts.
“Lastly, only for those participants who had been on a vacation more recently did feelings of dejection predict escapist behaviour.”
The study has been published in the Journal of Travel Research.