Helping News                                                   March, 2020   Issue 141

Does social media cause depression?
A new study concludes that there is in fact a causal link between the use of social media and negative effects on well-being, primarily depression and loneliness. The study was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

“What we found overall is that if you use less social media, you are actually less depressed and less lonely, meaning that the decreased social media use is what causes that qualitative shift in your well-being,” said Jordyn Young, a co-author of the paper and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Prior to this, all we could say was that there is an association between using social media and having poor outcomes with well-being,” she said.

The researchers say this is the first time a causal link has ever been established in scientific research.
The study included 143 students from the University of Pennsylvania. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups: one that would continue their social media habits as usual or one that would significantly limit access to social media.

For three weeks, the experimental group had their social media use reduced to 30 minutes per day — 10 minutes on three different platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat).

In order to keep these experimental conditions, the researchers looked at phone usage data, which documented how much time was spent using each app per day. All of the study participants had to use iPhones.

But why even let the experimental group use social media at all?

“We didn’t think [complete abstinence] was an accurate representation of the landscape of the world that we live in today. Social media is around us in so many capacities,” Young said.

The results were clear: The group that used less social media, even though it wasn’t completely eliminated, had better mental health outcomes.

Baseline readings for participants were taken at the beginning of the trial in several areas of well-being: social support, fear of missing out, loneliness, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, autonomy, and self-acceptance.

At the end of the trial, those in the experimental group saw both loneliness and depressive symptoms decline, with the largest changes happening in those who reported greater levels of depression.

“No matter where they started off, if they were told to limit their social media, they had less depression, no matter what their initial levels were,” Young said.

Meanwhile, both groups saw a decline in levels of anxiety and fear of missing out, which the researchers posit as potentially coming from users simply becoming more aware of their social media use by taking part in the trial.

Even with an established causal link, there still remains a larger, unanswered question: Why?

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