In a new research study, researchers found a correlation between the use of social media and depression symptoms like loneliness and fatigue.
The study was led by the University of Amsterdam (UvA).
Over the past decade, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become a central part of everyday life.
Despite their massive popularity, however, controversy abounds regarding their impact on mental health and wellbeing.
For many of us using social media is a daily habit. Whenever we have a moment to spare, we find ourselves reaching for our smartphones and aimlessly scrolling through social media feeds reading updates or looking at pictures.
This behavior, called passive social media use (PSMU), is often used to relieve boredom and can swallow up large chunks of personal time.
While seemingly innocent, PSMU isn’t without controversy – experimental research shows that it can decrease affective wellbeing, a sense of belonging and life satisfaction.
To investigate the link between social media use and depression symptoms, the team recruited 125 students and measured their wellbeing and passive social media use seven times daily for 14 days.
A special app on their phones prompted participants at fixed times to complete a 12-item depression questionnaire.
Their responses were analyzed with a novel statistical technique, which was developed/implemented by researchers affiliated with the UvA’s Psychosystems Group (Dr. Laura Bringmann and Dr. Sacha Epskamp).
The analysis focused on three timeframes – short-term (within the same two hours), medium-term (prediction from one prompt to next) and longer-term (across the entire 14 days).
Although the results showed that engaging in PSMU did not predict depression symptoms, they did reveal a noticeable relation between negative wellbeing and increased social media use.
The researchers found that feelings of fatigue and loneliness at a given prompt predicted PSMU at the next prompt.
This indicates that certain depression symptoms might lead individuals to scroll through social media feeds.
They also found that passive social media use at a given prompt co-occurred with a loss of interest, concentration problems, fatigue and loneliness at the same prompt.
However, it is unknown whether PSMU causes these symptoms or vice versa. This is a topic for future research.
Most importantly, the study shows that the link between social media and psychological well-being is more complicated than ‘social media make people depressed.
Instead, specific social media behavior seems associated with specific depression symptoms, and more research is required to find out how these social media use and mental health influence each other.
The researchers believe the next important step is to replicate the findings in a clinical setting.
As previous research suggests that social media’s adverse effects could be stronger in depressed than in non-depressed individuals, a clinical sample might show a more pronounced link between PSMU and depression symptoms.
George Aalbers, a UvA Research Master’s graduate in Psychology, is the lead author of the study.
The findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
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