Past studies have suggested that tuning out from social media can have a positive impact on one’s life – with some people saying they’ve become more social with others without the need for phones or apps to make a connection. Yet, like any recent finding there was bound to be another study that offered contradictory evidence, and this week a new study suggested that quitting social media may not make people happier.
A study conducted at the University of Kentucky revealed that there was no significant change in a person’s mood even after they quit social media for seven, 14, 21 or 28 days; or if they continued using social media as before.
The abstract noted, “Social media use has a weak, negative association with well-being in cross-sectional and longitudinal research, but this association in experimental studies is mixed. This investigation explores whether social media abstinence leads to improved daily well-being over four weeks of time.”
It added, “All participants completed a daily diary measuring loneliness, well-being, and quality of day. Results showed no main effect of social media abstinence. The duration of abstinence was not associated with change in outcomes and order of abstinence did not explain variance in outcomes. Results are consistent with trivial effects detected in large cross-sectional research, and call into question the causal relationship between social media and well-being on the daily level.”
Fear Of Missing Out
Other recent research also suggests that social media could have a positive impact on well-being when it leads to increased social connections.
In a study, “The Social Media Party: Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), Social Media Intensity, Connection, and Well-Being,” the researchers focused on the effect FOMO has on social media use, social connections to others and psychological well-being.
The study, which was conducted by James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing, and Meredith David, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, was published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction.
According to Roberts, approximately 75% of young adults may struggle with some level of FOMO.
“The human need to belong is an innate drive that dictates much of our behavior,” said Roberts via a statement. “Social media capitalizes on this need to belong. Social media has a dual nature. It lets us interact with others, which is good, but it also exposes us to more social opportunities than we can take part in and that fosters a sense of missing out and inadequacy.”
One problem with social media the study found, was that it is often used passively – in what the researchers described as “creeping on people” or “viewing pages without interacting” – and that such activity leads to overall lower levels of happiness. Creeping, the researchers added, does not foster social connections.
But the general FOMO can in fact, lead to happier people if it also drives those individuals to use social media to make meaningful connections.
The Type Of Engagement Is What Matters
Using or not using social media may not be the point, but rather how one uses it.
“Social media is likely to have different impacts on happiness or wellbeing depending on the type of social media being engaged with as well as the characteristics of the person using the social media, and the amount of social media use,” explained Gretchen Clum, associate professor in the School of Public Health at Tulane University.
“Feeling connected to others, obtaining useful information, providing advice or volunteer activities may be important links to happiness that can be enhanced by social media use,” added Clum. “For example, seeking information on sexual identity through social media has found to be associated with positive outcomes in adolescents, whereas seeking information on general identity information was not. Overuse of social media that results in sleep deprivation or social avoidance might be detrimental to wellbeing, some people who are particularly vulnerable to fear of missing out or social envy may also experience negative impacts on mood from social media use.”
Therefore simply disconnecting from social media may not make someone very connected with friends and colleagues feel better and tuning out could make those individuals feel worse.
“While disconnecting from social media may pose some benefits, significant changes in happiness and well-being likely comes from a host of changed habits over time,” suggested Catherine McKinley, assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Tulane University.
“In other words, changes in happiness likely comes from broader changes in lifestyle and perspective, such as social media, exercise, or changes in mindset,” said McKinley. “Sometimes the challenges and adjustments from disconnecting from social media may contribute to greater anxiety initially. This may subside over time. Additionally, fear of missing out on social activities or and discomfort due to change itself may offset or cancel out some of the benefits from disconnecting from social media.”
Balancing Social Media Use
These result studies suggest that social media could even be something that brings happiness to individuals, and when disconnected those former users feel isolated from their friends and family.
“This may be the case,” added McKinley. “Social media has been the thread tying together many friend, social, and community groups. It’s possible that having access to these groups, but limiting the focus may promote balance overall. To achieve this balance, it may be more effective to build other activities into your life. Having a ‘full’ and fulfilling life may naturally leave less time or focus for social media because you are active and present in your other life activities. In this way, the addition or replacement of positive activities rather than the sole removal of social media may contribute to sustainable balance and happiness.”
For many social media is also how they connect with friends – both near and far away.
“For millennials and increasingly for the more mature population, social media acts as a means in our lives to build relationships and experiences,” said Hewett Chiu is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Health Administration at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School.
“We live in a world where we have the option of living experiences through virtual reality with the aid of technology. And social media, even though virtual, is our reality,” added Chiu. “So for many where social media is the reality, where they are building friendships, relationships, and life experiences through these platforms, they experience levels of fulfillment and gratification that if continues to be sustained, then becomes baselined.”
Therefore social media should be part of a balanced life that includes other activities, and experts suggested that individuals have connections that aren’t just through social media platforms.
“Balancing social media use with other forms of social engagement is likely important to wellbeing,” noted Clum. “Being socially connected to friends and family is an important influence on mood and happiness, so social media may promote that. If social media includes a lot of exposure to negative role models, for example, bullying or promotion of substance use, or interferes with health behaviors such as sleep, exercise, or productivity there is a potential for harm to mental health.”
Clum also suggested that it is important to recognize when there is a need to disconnect or when one might be experiencing negative effects of social media. “There is a lot more work to be done to understand for whom and under what conditions social media use can promote or harm wellbeing.”