Look, it’s a constant level of concern: We’re all using devices all the time, and social media is everywhere. What does this mean for our mental health?
Interestingly, despite the heightened level of public concern over both cell phone use and social media dominance, the research picture of their mental health effects is rather complicated. There has been extensive research in this area, but it’s been hard to pin down robust links between negative mental health, social media, and device use. True, there have been isolated studies that find links — but many of these had serious design flaws, and taken as a whole, the picture is much more complicated. There are many other prominent studies that have found very little link — and ones that even find some positive effects for users via social media.
(For a comprehensive exploration of these issues beyond the scope of today’s article, please see the introductory literature review sections of today’s studies and their cited sources.)
You wouldn’t know it looking at public discourse, however. It’s basically assumed as common knowledge that social media and device use are terrible for people — and particularly for impressionable adolescents. And not only is it believed to be harmful, it’s also generally believed to be getting worse over time and especially that the last decade has been more dramatic in the effects.
Today’s study dove into this idea — that things are getting worse re: mental health impact and social media.
Whatever Effect There Is Doesn’t Seem to Be Getting Worse
Interestingly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A recent study found that any mental health effects of social media and digital tech in general have remained relatively stable over the last decade. They did so by conducting meta-analysis of the results of three rather large-scale studies on the topic.
The current study also found a lack of a consistent measurable negative effect of social media on participant mental health. Results were mixed on the issue, suggesting again that the picture is much more complex than public opinion would believe.
Notably, this research used an adolescent sample — a cohort which is classically quite prone to effects of social media (and media influence in general).
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.