Social media use may make you feel lonely: study

People who use social media for over two hours a day have twice the odds of experiencing feelings of social isolation and lack a sense of social belonging


Researchers from University of Pittsburg sampled about 1,787 US adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine time spent on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Photo: AFP
Researchers from University of Pittsburg sampled about 1,787 US adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine time spent on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Photo: AFP

Washington: The more time you spend on social media—scrolling through Facebook, trolling on Twitter, snapping on Snapchat—the more likely you are to feel socially isolated, a new study has warned.

Researchers from University of Pittsburgh in the US found that people who use social media for more than two hours a day have twice the odds of experiencing feelings of social isolation and lack a sense of social belonging.

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They sampled about 1,787 US adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine time and frequency of social media use by asking about the 11 most popular social media platforms, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.

Researchers measured participants’ perceived social isolation using a validated assessment tool called the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System. Even when the researchers controlled for a variety of social and demographic factors, participants who used social media more than two hours a day had twice the odds for perceived social isolation than their peers who spent less than half an hour on social media each day.

Participants who visited various social media platforms 58 or more times per week had about triple the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week. “We are inherently social creatures, but modern life tends to compartmentalize us instead of bringing us together,” said Brian A. Primack, director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health in the US.

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“While it may seem that social media presents opportunities to fill that social void, I think this study suggests that it may not be the solution people were hoping for,” said Primack.

Researchers provided several theories for how increased use of social media could fuel feelings of social isolation. Social media facilitate feelings of exclusion when one sees photos of friends having fun at an event to which they were not invited.

Displacement of more authentic social experiences by social media because the more time a person spends online, the less time there is for real-world interactions. The exposure to highly idealised representations of peers’ lives on social media sites may be eliciting feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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