A Run-Down Of Social Media's Effects On Our Mental Health. It’s addictive Experts have not been in total agreement on whether internet addiction is a real thing, let alone social media addiction, but there’s some good evidence that both may exist. And studies have confirmed that people tend to undergo a kind of withdrawal: A study a few years ago from Swansea University found that people experienced the psychological symptoms of withdrawal when they stopped using (this went for all internet use, not just social media). One study a few years ago found that Facebook use was linked to both less moment-to-moment happiness and less life satisfaction—the more people used Facebook in a day, the more these two variables dropped off. Comparing our lives with others is mentally unhealthy Part of the reason Facebook makes people feel socially isolated (even though they may not actually be) is the comparison factor. One study looked at how we make comparisons to others posts, in “upward” or “downward” directions—that is, feeling that we’re either better or worse better than our friends. It turned out that both types of comparisons made people feel worse, which is surprising, since in real life, only upward comparisons (feeling another person has it better than you) makes people feel bad. That is, when envy is controlled for, Facebook isn’t so depressing. One study looked at how people feel after using Facebook and how they think they’ll feel going in. More friends on social doesn’t mean you’re more social A couple of years ago, a study found that more friends on social media doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better social life—there seems to be a cap on the number of friends a person’s brain can handle, and it takes actual social interaction (not virtual) to keep up these friendships.
Health experts love to say that sitting is the new smoking. Given the number of diseases to which sitting is linked, and the number of people it apparently kills every year, sitting is one of the worst things we can do for health. But possibly as concerning is the mental health habit that’s almost ubiquitous these days: Scrolling through our social media feeds like zombies. And as we probably know intuitively, and as the research is confirming, it’s not the best habit when it comes to our collective psychology.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned about the potential for negative effects of social media in young kids and teens, including cyber-bullying and “Facebook depression.” But the same risks may be true for adults, across generations. Here’s a quick run-down of the studies that have shown that social media isn’t very good for mental well-being, and in some ways, it can be pretty bad.
Experts have not been in total agreement on whether internet addiction is a real thing, let alone social media addiction, but there’s some good evidence that both may exist. A review study from Nottingham Trent University looked back over earlier research on the psychological characteristics, personality, and social media use. The authors conclude that “it may be plausible to speak specifically of ‘Facebook Addiction Disorder’…. because addiction criteria, such as neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying experiences, tolerance, and concealing the addictive behavior, appear to be present in some people who use [social networks] excessively.” (They also found that the motivation for people’s excessive use of social networks differs depending on certain traits—introverts and extroverts use it for different reasons, as do people with narcissistic traits. But that deserves a piece of its own.)
And studies have confirmed that people tend to undergo a kind of withdrawal: A study a few years ago from Swansea University found that people experienced the psychological symptoms of withdrawal when they stopped using (this went for all internet use, not just social media). Their recent follow up study found that when people stop using, they also undergo small but measurable physiological effects. Study author Phil Reed said, “We have known for some time that people who are over-dependent on digital devices report feelings of anxiety when they are stopped from using them, but now we can see that these psychological effects are accompanied by actual physiological changes.” Whether this is true of social media per se, is unclear right now, but anecdotal evidence suggests it may be.
More sadness, less well-being
The more we use social media, the less happy we seem to be. One study a few years ago found that Facebook use was linked to both less moment-to-moment happiness and less life satisfaction—the more people used Facebook in a day, the more these two variables dropped off. The authors suggest this may have to do with the fact that Facebook conjures up a perception of social isolation, in a way that other solitary activities don’t. “On the surface,” the authors write, “Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling such needs by allowing people to instantly connect. Rather…