There have a been a host of studies examining the psychological effects of social media use, across different age ranges, ethnicity, class and gender. While many of these have drawn a connection between the use of social media and mental health issues, many studies have only been able to conclude correlation rather than causation. The new research from the University of Pennsylvania claims to have shown a causative link, according to a review of the research by Engadget.
The most significant mental health issue appears to be loneliness. It may appear counter intuitive to declare that increased use of social media enhances feelings of loneliness (perceived social isolation), but an effect is an increased tendency towards social comparison in that a person may see their own life as less interesting, less engaged, and less gregarious than those they are viewing on social media. The impact of loneliness is significance; for instance on study, reported by The Daily Telegraph, found that lonely people have a 50 per cent increased risk of early death, compared to those with good social connections.
With the study, the researchers used experimental data to connect use of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram to decreased well-being. The data was drawn from 143 volunteers, who were requested to complete a survey which indicated each person’s mood and well-being at the beginning of the study together with periodic records of their social media use throughout the study. During the course of the study, the subjects were divided into a control group (with no limitations on social media use) and a study group where time spent on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram was limited to 10 minutes per platform per day. The study was run over a three week period.
At the end of the study, the responses of the participants were examined against seven potential outcome measures, such as fear of missing out, anxiety, depression, and loneliness. According to lead researcher Melissa G. Hunt there was a clear conclusion to the research: “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 researchers do not conclude with ‘social media is bad for you’; instead they make the case for restricting social media use as a step towards improving mental health outcomes, especially for addressing feelings of loneliness. What the research could not determine is what exactly this time should be, and this appears to vary between individuals.
The research has been published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, with the paper titled “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression