New study: Reducing social media use cuts depression and loneliness

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A new study shows that limiting your social media usage to 30 minutes per day can significantly improve your well-being.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that the less time you scroll through photos and posts of your friends can lower the rates of depression and loneliness.

This may not be news to you. But it’s the first official study to show a direct cause-and-effect relationship between social media usage and mental health issues. Previous studies have only managed to show a correlation between the two.

Lead researcher Melissa G. Hunt, psychologist and associate director of clinical training in Penn’s Psychology Department says:

“We set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid.”

Comparing social media usage habits

How did the researchers come up with the results?

They studied the social media habits of 143 undergraduate students in the span of two semesters.

The students were put on two groups. One was told to limit their usage of Facebook, Instagram, and Snap chat to only 30 minutes a day, 10 per platform. The other group was told to use social media as much as they normally would.

Three weeks later, the students were asked questions to assess their mental health in 7 areas:

  • fear of missing out (FOMO)
  • loneliness
  • social acceptance
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • self-acceptance
  • autonomy
  • self-esteem

The results

Dr. Hunt says:

“Here’s the bottom line. Using less social media than you normally would leads 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.”

Neither groups showed any improvements in terms of social support, self-esteem, or autonomy. However, both groups (perhaps even by simply participating in the study) showed declined rates in anxiety and FOMO.

Take it with a grain of salt, however. Studies like this can’t generally test for every single factor that can affect mental health.

Even Dr. Hunt stresses that this study does not suggest us to stop using social media altogether. In fact, the study was built to avoid what she considers as an unrealistic goal.

She says:

“It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely. 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.”

However, the study does prove an undeniable truth: limiting social media usage couldn’t hurt.

Dr. Hunt has two conclusions. First, limiting social media usage prevents us from subjecting ourselves to social comparison:

“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.”

Second, since social media has become an integral part of our society, it’s crucial we actively think of ways to limit its damaging effects.

With that, the psychologist has some choice words to impart:

“In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life.”

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