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Study finds social media envy is making people depressed and lonely
Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram can create depressed, anxious or lonely addicts who believe their lives are less “cool” than their online friends’.
A new experimental study from the University of Pennsylvania has demonstrated the first causal connection between social media use and feelings of depression and loneliness.
Researchers claim decreasing one’s social media use could lead to significant improvements in personal well-being.
The experiment tracked 143 participants for a month.
The research team designed the experiment to include the three platforms most popular with undergraduate students, and then collected data automatically tracked by iPhones for active apps, not those running in the background.
Participants completed a subjective wellbeing survey that incorporated seven different validated scales designed to measure a variety of wellbeing constructs, including depression, loneliness and the “Fear of Missing Out Scale”.
For the first week participants were directed to use social media as they normally would.
In the three weeks that followed, they were divided into a control group, which remained at regular social media usage levels, and an experimental group, directed to limit usage of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to 10 minutes per platform a day.
Every subject uploaded battery screenshots every night to allow true app usage to be tracked, and wellbeing surveys were completed at the end of each week.
“Here’s the bottom line: 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,” said researcher Melissa Hunt.
Durban psychologist Rakhi Beekrum has been recommending digital detoxes to her patients “very often for these reasons, with the result that their lives become happier, more meaningful and they have more time”.
“Excessive time on social media does contribute to loneliness. It is leading people to disconnect from those around them. While superficially connecting to others on social media has many advantages, it should not replace real-life relationships.”
Beekrum said she often counselled patients who were dissatisfied with their lives because they were convinced everyone else was happier or more successful than them, “primarily because of what is shared on social media”.
“Of course, people only ever share highlights of their lives, but there are many who assume that their lives are perfect based only on those highlights.
“So the energy that could have been more wisely invested in pursuing one’s own goals is rather wasted envying what we assume are perfect lives that others are living.”
Beekrum said while social media itself was not bad, users needed to be mindful of how they used it.