Spending too much time on social media increases depression, loneliness

Doris Richards
November 12, 2018

But a new study suggests that reducing social media use might help those who already have the illness feel significantly less depressed - and cutting down can have a similarly major impact on loneliness. "These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study", Hunt added.

Her findings will appear in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. The survey team collected objective usage data automatically tracked by iPhones for recent active apps, not those running the background. Those in the experimental group had to limit their time spent on each social media platform to 10 minutes per day. The study lasted for three weeks, during which all participants provided a battery usage screenshot and completed the mood survey on a weekly basis. All were monitored for one week to set a baseline of well-being measured on seven scales: social support; fear of missing out; loneliness; anxiety; depression; self-esteem; and autonomy and self-acceptance.

"There have been suggestions of links between narcissism and the use of visual postings on social media, such as Facebook, but, until this study, it was not known if narcissists use this form of social media more, or whether using such platforms is associated with the subsequent growth in narcissism". The work does, however, speak to the idea that limiting screen time on these apps couldn't hurt. But when she digs a little deeper, the findings make sense. 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. "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". Both groups were then created: one of the first participants can continue to use the social networks as they wished, a second in which participants were limited to 10 minutes per platform per day.

Hunt also hesitates to say that these findings would replicate for other age groups or in different settings. Those are questions she still hopes to answer, including in an upcoming study about the use of dating apps by college students.

Hunt noted that the findings do not mean that 18 to 22 year-olds should stop using social media altogether, which she believes is an unrealistic goal.

Although images of a handsome white-sand beach, a brand new Rolex or even a glamorous selfie can be entertaining, the sense of social comparison that stems from them is not always healthy.

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