Facebook Browsing May Distort Perception of Time

Woman browsing social media at cafe counterViewing online images may distort perceptions of time, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. The study found people viewing Facebook were particularly likely to underestimate the amount of time they spent on the social media platform.

Data suggest people spend significant portions of their day online, especially on social media. According to 2016 data from Facebook, the average user spends 50 minutes a day on the site.

Does Browsing the Web Distort Time Perception?

The study explored how 44 adults perceived time while viewing various images. Researchers showed each participant five Facebook-associated images, five internet-associated images, and 10 generic images.

Participants viewed the images for different lengths of time. Researchers then asked them whether they had seen each image for short or long periods. Participants underestimated the time they had spent with both general internet images and with Facebook images. Facebook images more dramatically distorted time perceptions, suggesting the social media site may make it harder for people to manage their time.

Concerns About Attention Span and Social Media

Recent studies have explored how social media may alter cognition, attention, and time management. This study may help explain what is behind changes in behavior and thoughts surrounding digital media. If people cannot accurately measure the amount of time they spend on Facebook and other websites, they may not be able to judge when their use has become excessive. As a result, the study’s authors say this research could lead to future studies on how addictive behavior affects perception of time.

A study of Canadians by Microsoft found the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015. The authors of that study highlighted the role of digital media consumption in decreasing attention spans, suggesting users of multiple screens may struggle to filter out irrelevant information.

Many previous studies have shown social media use can negatively affect mental health, especially when used in excess. A 2015 study found teens who feel pressured to maintain a social media presence may experience worse mental health.


  1. Facebook use impairs your perception of time according to study. (2017, February 8). Retrieved from http://www.i4u.com/2017/02/120512/facebook-use-impairs-your-perception-time-according-study
  2. Gonidis, L., & Sharma, D. (2017). Internet and Facebook related images affect the perception of time. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. doi:10.1111/jasp.12429
  3. McSpadden, K. (2015, May 14). Science: You now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. Retrieved from http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/
  4. Stewart, J. B. (2016, May 5). Facebook has 50 minutes of your time each day. It wants more. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/06/business/facebook-bends-the-rules-of-audience-engagement-to-its-advantage.html?_r=0

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  • Jazzy

    March 7th, 2017 at 2:18 PM

    Oh I know that there are those days when I get so totally caught up in my news feed and snaps that I look up and HOURs have seriously gone by. And I think there is no way that I was that involved in all of that but I guess that the truth is I lose all track of time when I am looking at something interesting online. I guess now that I think about it it is probably horrible just how much time I tend to lose with just looking at random things online

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