Stop Staring at Your Facebook Profile: It Could Be Making You Stupid

A new study finds that gazing at your own profile boosts self-esteem, but makes you mentally lazy

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People used to log onto Facebook to spy on old flames and check out new crushes. Now it seems like they are more interested in gazing at their own profiles — and that’s a problem. A new study published in the journal Media Psychology found that while looking at one’s profile for just five minutes helped boost self-esteem, the narcissistic exercise also led to a measurable dip in motivation.

In the study of 159 U.S. college students, author Catalina Toma of the University of Wisconsin-Madison notes that “by affirming the self, Facebook profiles may render additional efforts to prove oneself superficial.” She adds, “the increase in self-worth and self-integrity induced by Facebook-profile exposure was shown to backfire by reducing users’ motivation to perform well in subsequent cognitive tasks of moderate difficulty.” The author reached her conclusions by having students answer a set of questions measuring self-esteem and cognitive performance after viewing either their own or someone else’s profile.

(MORE: Teens Tire of Facebook – but Not Enough to Log Off)

Facebook’s social influence has been disparaged lately, and not just because it’s an enormous time suck. As TIME’s Healthland reported in January, German researchers found that spending time on Facebook created feelings of loneliness, misery and envy among a third of the 600 people they studied. This was especially true for people who looked at other’s vacation photos or logged on without posting any of their own content or comments. A separate survey released by Pew Research Center last month found that teenagers were losing interest in the social network, in part because of all the “drama.”

(MORE: Scientific Study Suggests Internet Addiction May Cause Brain Damage)

As with all studies, the findings from Toma’s research should be taken with a grain of salt. In an article for the Atlantic, Lindsay Abrams offered an alternative interpretation for the dip in students’ cognitive skills: “Maybe they just resented being torn away from their online social world so much so that they had trouble concentrating on anything else.” In other words, our collective online addiction is showing few signs of subsiding.

MORE: Why Facebook Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself