Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say they have for the first time linked social media use to increasing depression and loneliness.
The idea that social media are anything but social in terms of mental health has been talked about for years, but many studies have failed to link the two.
To this end, Penn researchers led by psychologist Melissa Hunt have developed a study that focused on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
The findings were published in the November issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
How did the study work?
The study was conducted with 143 participants who conducted a mood survey and sent photos from their battery screens to show how often they use their phones to access social media.
"We plan to do a much more comprehensive and rigorous study, which is also more ecological," Hunt said. This ecologically valid term means that research tries to imitate real life.
The study divided the participants into two groups: the first group was allowed to maintain their normal social media habits. The other, the control group, was limited to 10 minutes a day on the three platforms Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
The restrictions were imposed for three weeks and then the participants returned and were tested for outcomes such as FOMO, anxiety, depression and loneliness.
TheResults of the study
The results showed a very clear correlation between the use of social media and an increasing level of depression and loneliness.
"The use of less social media than usual would lead to a significant reduction in both depression and loneliness," Hunt said. "These effects are particularly pronounced for people who were more depressed in the study."
She calls her findings the "great irony" of social media.
What is so depressing about social media?
Hunt says that there are two important things. The first is that social media invites what Hunt calls a "downward social comparison." When you're online, it can sometimes seem that "everyone else is cooler and more fun and involved in more things and you're not there," she says. And that is generally only demoralizing.
The second factor is a bit more nuanced.
"Time is a zero-sum game," Hunt told VOA. "Every minute you spend online is a minute when you do not do your job or meet a friend for dinner or have a deep conversation with your roommate."
These real activities are those that can boost self-esteem and self-esteem, Hunt said.
What to learn
So, what's the snack?
People are on their devices and that will not change, she said. But as in life, a bit of moderation goes a long way.
"In general, I would say, disconnect your phone and be with the people in your life," she added.
Hunt pointed to the study some reservations. First, it was conducted exclusively with 18-22 year olds, and it was unclear whether the depressive effects of social media would cross generational lines to older or younger people, Hunt said. However, she expects her results to be general, at least for those under the age of 30.
Hunt says she is now starting a study to estimate the emotional impact of dating apps.