Depressed? Feeling lonely? Blame it on the endless scroll, says study

by Elton Gomes

Spending too much time on social media sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram could impact your well-being, making you depressed and lonely, a recent study has found out.

For the first time, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania conducted an experiment that connects Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram use to decreased well-being. The study’s findings has been published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Previously, few studies have attempted to show a direct link between social-media use and an individual’s well-being. Some studies that explored this area have either put participants in unrealistic situations or were limited in scope.

“We set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid,” said Hunt, associate director of clinical training at University of Pennsylvania’s Psychology Department, ScienceDaily reported.

Keeping that in mind, the research team, which included recent alumni Rachel Marx and Courtney Lipson and Penn senior Jordyn Young of Greenwich, Connecticut, designed their experiment to include the three platforms that were most popular with a cohort of undergraduates. The team then collected objective usage data that was automatically tracked by iPhones for active apps, not those running in the background.

What has the study found?

A total of 143 participants took part in the study. Each of the 143 participants completed a survey to determine mood and well-being at the beginning of the study. The participants also shared shots of their iPhone battery screens to offer a week’s worth of baseline social-media data.

After that, participants were randomly assigned to a control group, wherein users maintained their typical social-media behavior, or an experimental group, wherein time on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram was limited to 10 minutes per platform per day.

For the next three weeks, participants shared their iPhone battery screenshots so that the researchers could collate the weekly tallies for each individual. With that data in hand, Hunt assessed seven outcome measures including fear of missing out, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Hunt said, “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,” ScienceDaily reported.

What do the results indicate?

Hunt however asserts that the findings do not indicate that 18-22 year-olds should completely stop using social media. In fact, she developed the study as she did in order to stay away from what she considers an unrealistic goal.

“It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely,” she said on the university’s official website. Hunt then talks about social comparison, “Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. 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.”

What are the study’s limitations?

Since this study only looked at Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, it remains unclear whether it can be broadly applied to all social media platforms. Hunt seemed uncertain whether the findings would be the same for other age groups or under different circumstances. She hopes to answer those questions in an upcoming study about the use of dating apps among college students.

However, Hunt mentioned that the findings did offer two conclusions that would be of interest to any social media user. Firstly, she says that social media users should reduce opportunities for social comparison. “When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life,” EurekAlert reported.

Secondly, she says because these tools are here to stay, society is obligated to figure out how to use them in a way that limits its negative effects. ”In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life,” Hunt concluded, as per the EurekAlert report.

Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius

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