Spending an evening on Facebook can seem pretty harmless, especially if the time is spent reading baby updates and looking at vacation photos. A new study released today shows, however, that when it comes to stressful situations on social media, ignorance may be bliss.

The study, conducted by Pew Research Centers, found that although social media users do not have higher stress levels than the general population, they are more aware of stressful events concerning their family and friends. And stress that plays out on social media is contagious -- perhaps even more contagious than the flu.

Learning on Facebook that a friend or family member is going through a divorce or is losing his or her job takes an emotional toll. The report refers to this concept as the "cost of caring."

Last month, Facebook learned a hard lesson in how negativity can be contagious on social media when it inadvertently helped increase the stress levels of some of its users with its annual Year in Review video feature, a compilation of photos and updates meant to be shared as personal montages. Some Facebook users, especially ones that had undergone a particularly tough year, did not appreciate being reminded of their less-than-desirable events and tragedies and complained to Facebook for its "thoughtless" feature. 

But the effect of social media on our stress levels and mood isn't always negative, according to Rutgers University Professor Keith Hampton, the main author of the Pew Research study. 

"There is a complex relationship between social media use and stress," Prof. Hampton says, dispelling the common notion that social media is inherently a stress-inducing exercise. Besides the risk of being exposed to a stressful situations documented by family and friends, social media users do not feel any more stress in their day-to-day, according to Prof. Hampton.

"There is a great deal of speculation that social media users feel extra pressure to participate and keep up on social media, to avoid the 'fear of missing out' in activities that others share and that they feel anxious after viewing the successful images that friends project on Facebook," he says.

While Facebook FOMO may be real, it's canceled out by the benefits of social connections, Hampton says. Also counteracting it is a phenomenon labeled "joy of missing out." It's the relief that comes from reading about the misfortunes of people in one's social web and feeling lucky to have been spared. For women, the "joy of missing out" is associated with a 6 percent stress reduction