Social Media & Loneliness

Social Media & Loneliness

Figure 1: Social Media & Loneliness. Students who had their social media use limited reported less loneliness. The control group, which used the same amount of social media as they usually do, had a loneliness score of 38.2 Those who limited their social media use to 10 minutes per day per platform reported a loneliness score of 33.5. This was measured with the UCLA Loneliness Score, on a scale of 20-80. This was statistically significant.

For this post, we've teamed up with Alice in Science Education, an educator who has a great blog , instagram page and twitter account sharing her thoughts on the latest research in education and science. She provided the ideas and thoughts for this post.

There is no question that social media has completely changed the way we live. Many of us interact with our friends online more than we do in person.

Kids, in particular, use a lot of social media. They spend hours on Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms that most adults haven’t even heard of.

But what is the effect of this on mental health? New research is beginning to show that social media does have significant effects on how we think and how we feel, and it isn’t always positive. Experimental evidence has shown that limiting social media use may be helpful in improving our mental health.

A psychology experiment on students showed that social media may ironically make us feel lonelier.

Students in an experiment were randomly selected to limit their social media use to 10 minutes per day per platform.

After four weeks, researchers found a significant difference between the two groups in how lonely they felt. They measured this with the UCLA loneliness scale, which evaluates how connected, or disconnected someone feels from others.

Social Media & Depression Experiment

Social Media & Depression Experiment

Figure 2: Social Media & Depression Experiment. Students who had their social media use limited reported less depression. Students were split into two groups, one of which was asked to limit their social media use, just for a month. At the start of the study, both groups reported similar levels of depression. By the end of the study, researchers found that those assigned to limit their social media use had a significantly lower depression score than those who did not. (14.8 vs 22.7)

Individuals who use less social media also have fewer depression symptoms. Limiting the amount of social media you use may help how depressed you may feel.

The same researchers looked at the number of depressive symptoms in students who had limited their social media use. Those who had limited social media showed significantly fewer depressive symptoms by week 4, despite having similar levels at the beginning of the study.

Depressive Symptoms vs. Major Depression

When people write about depression, they often mix up depressive symptoms, which many of us may have from time to time, and Major Depressive Disorder, which is a clinical diagnosis of depression. Many of us feel “depressed” from time to time. This is completely normal. Individuals with multiple symptoms for at least 2 weeks may qualify for a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, which is the actual medical condition that we call Depression.

Social Media and Depression

Social Media and Depression

Figure 3: Social Media and Depression. Individuals with more depression symptoms used social media more often. 29% of those who engaged in at least 58 social media sessions had high depression symptoms, compared to 19% of those who engaged in 8 or fewer social media sessions per week. Similarly, only 16% of those who engaged in 58 or more social media sessions per week had low depression symptoms, compared to 36% of those who engaged in 8 or fewer sessions per week.

This result was consistent with a research survey that found a correlation between depression and social media.

A survey of 1,787 young adults between ages 19 and 32 found that those who used the least social media, with 1 or fewer social media sessions per day, had the lowest likelihood of having multiple depression symptoms, while those who used social media the most had the highest likelihood of having multiple depression symptoms.

Limitations of Self-Reported Data

Much of the data here is self-reported, which has several limitations and sources of bias. Self-reported data, which is obtained through surveys and questionnaires, is the most feasible way of collecting data from large subsets of the population. However, the data may suffer from recall bias, where respondents may forget certain details or may not accurately remember details. They may also suffer from social desirability bias, where respondents may be reluctant to admit to socially undesirable behaviors, even if the survey is anonymous.

Keys to Health

This research provides experimental and survey evidence showing that social media use may be linked to mental health. Limiting social media use can potentially help improve mental health.

However, there are a few significant shortcomings to this research. Since much of this research was done on college students, the results may not necessarily apply to the general population. Most of us don't live on campuses surrounded by our friends.

If your alternative to facebook is seeing friends in person at the dining hall, then it makes sense that limiting social media use can improve loneliness.

However, if the alternative is Netflix, then limiting social media use may not necessarily improve loneliness