Social media use increases depression and loneliness

In the first experimental study of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram use, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Melissa G. Hunt showed a causal link between time spent on the platforms and decreased well-being.


A number of studies have by now correlated social media use with mental-health risks, such as loneliness and depression. It could lead to symptoms of depression if the site triggered feelings of envy in the user.

A new study by the University of Pennsylvania has now discovered the association between social media and mental health. Scientists discovered that the use of social media is directly associated with decreased well-being.

Melissa G. Hunt, associate director of clinical training in Penn’s Psychology Department said, “We set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid.”

For the study, scientists planned their analysis to incorporate the three stages most prominent with an associate of students, and afterward gathered target use information consequently followed by iPhones for active applications, not those running the foundation.

Each of 143 participants completed a survey to determine mood and well-being at the study’s start, plus shared shots of their iPhone battery screens to offer a week’s worth of baseline social-media data. Participants were then randomly assigned to a control group, which had users maintain their typical social-media behavior, or an experimental group that limited time on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram to 10 minutes per platform per day.

For the next three weeks, participants shared iPhone battery screenshots to give the researchers weekly tallies for each individual. With those data in hand, scientists then looked at seven outcome measures including fear of missing out, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Hunt said, “Here’s the bottom line. Using less social media than you normally would lead 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.”

“Hunt stresses that the findings do not suggest that 18- to 22-year-olds should stop using social media altogether. In fact, she built the study as she did to stay away from what she considers an unrealistic goal. The work does, however, speak to the idea that limiting screen time on these apps couldn’t hurt.”

“It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely. But when she digs a little deeper, the findings make sense. 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.”

Well, scientists only looked at Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, it’s not clear whether it applies broadly to other social media platforms. Scientists also noted that the study could replicate for other age groups or in different settings.

Hunt said, “Despite those caveats, and although the study didn’t determine the optimal time users should spend on these platforms or the best way to use them, the findings do offer two related conclusions it couldn’t hurt any social-media user to follow.”

“For one, reduce opportunities for social comparison, she says. “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.”

“Because these tools are here to stay, it’s incumbent on society to figure out how to use them in a way that limits damaging effects. In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life.”

The findings in the December Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

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