Social media users should pay attention to depression and loneliness

The link between the two has been talked about for years, but a causal connection had never been proven.

For the first time, University of Pennsylvania research based on experimental data connects Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram use to decreased well-being.

Few previous studies have attempted to show that social-media use harms users’ well-being, and those that have either put participants in unrealistic situations or were limited in scope.

The researchers in the current study set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid.

To that end, the research team designed their experiment to include the three platforms most popular with a cohort of undergraduates, and then collected objective usage data automatically tracked by iPhones for active apps, not those running the background.

Each of 143 participants completed a survey to determine mood and well-being at the study’s start, plus shared shots of their iPhone battery screens to offer a week’s worth of baseline social-media data.

Participants were then randomly assigned to a control group, which had users maintain their typical social-media behavior, or an experimental group that limited time on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram to 10 minutes per platform per day.

For the next three weeks, participants shared iPhone battery screenshots to give the researchers weekly tallies for each individual.

With those data in hand, the team then looked at seven outcome measures including fear of missing out, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

The researchers suggest that using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness.

These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.

The team stresses that the findings do not suggest that 18- to 22-year-olds should stop using social media altogether.

In fact, she built the study as she did to stay away from what she considers an unrealistic goal. The work does, however, speak to the idea that limiting screen time on these apps couldn’t hurt.

It is a little ironic that reducing the use of social media actually makes people feel less lonely.

Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens.

For example, when you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.

Because this particular work only looked at Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, it’s not clear whether it applies broadly to other social-media platforms.

In addition, these findings should to be tested to replicate for other age groups or in different settings.

Despite those caveats, and although the study didn’t determine the optimal time users should spend on these platforms or the best way to use them, the findings do offer two related conclusions it couldn’t hurt any social-media user to follow.

For one, reduce opportunities for social comparison.

When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life.

Secondly, because these tools are here to stay, it’s incumbent on society to figure out how to use them in a way that limits damaging effects.

In general, researchers suggest put the phone down and be with the people in real life.

Hunt, associate director of clinical training in Penn’s Psychology Department, is the leading author.

The findings are published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Source: University of Pennsylvania.