High levels of social media use are linked to greater feelings of social isolation, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Previous research on social media’s mental health effects is mixed. A 2015 study reported higher rates of unaddressed mental health concerns among teens who frequently use social media. A 2016 analysis found people who compare themselves to others on social media may experience depression. The same study also contends that users who rely on social media to access social support may experience a decline in depression.
Are Frequent Social Media Users More Isolated?
The study used a nationally representative sample of 1,787 people ages 19-32. Participants answered questions about their use of 11 social media sites, including LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Vine, and others. They also took a survey measuring isolation, indicating the degree to which they agreed with statements such as “I feel like people barely know me.”
The study did not test for a causal relationship, so it is impossible to determine whether social media use causes isolation or is only linked to it in some way. Some other factor common to frequent social media users might contribute to isolation. For example, people might use social media more frequently in an attempt to combat loneliness or seek out social support. Social media use could also cause users to spend less time with others, triggering feelings of isolation.
Because the study relied on self-reports, it is impossible to know whether participants’ reports about their social media use were accurate. Likewise, it is unclear whether frequent social media users were more isolated than others or if they just felt more isolated in comparison to others.
Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Whaite, E. O., Lin, L. Y., Rosen, D., . . . Miller, E. (2017). Social media use and perceived social isolation among young adults in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.010
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