A new study has found that passively scrolling social media can make people feel lonely and even cause psychological distress.
Researchers from Bourenmouth University focused on the different ways in which 18 to 34 year old engage with social media platforms like Instagram.
The study, published in the Behaviour and Information Technology journal, looked at 288 young adults to understand the relationship between social media and feelings of loneliness and distress.
“According to the Office for National Statistics, the highest levels of loneliness are found in young adults,” explains Dr. Constantina Panourgia, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at Bournemouth University.
“Social media holds significant importance for this group of young people — while some individuals talk highly about it, others demonise it. Previous studies have tended to look at specific platforms or the amount of time spent online. However, our aim was to delve deeper and investigate the different ways in which people engage with social media, regardless of which platforms they use.”
The researchers categorized their test subjects into three groups — passive users who exclusively browse content by other users, active non-social users who post their own content but don’t engage with other user’s content, and active social who post their own content and interact with other content.
The researchers found that it was the group who don’t engage in social media that was most strongly linked to anxiety, depression, and stress. Conversely, those creating and sharing content without engaging (active non-social users) found social media to be a more positive experience.
“This finding highlights the positive aspects of active non-social media use, such as public content sharing, that allows users to receive feedback, such as likes and positive comments to their posts, but without the demands of direct social interactions,” explains Dr. Panourgia.
“In other words, active non-social media users do not experience the additional pressures from constantly participating or initiating conversations with other people online which can be mentally exhausting.”
The Way You Interact With Social Media is Significant
Student Zoe Taylor says that “the manner in which users engage with social media plays a crucial role in their psychological well-being.” Noting, “Individuals who passively use social media tend to experience greater feelings of loneliness which can subsequently lead to increased psychological distress.”
The researchers say that loneliness is key to explaining the relationship between passive use and negative mental health impacts.
“Passive social media does not provide opportunities for communication and self-disclosure which are known to promote connectedness and social support,” adds Dr. Panourgia.
“So, users may feel isolated and excluded, leading to exacerbated feelings of loneliness and subsequently to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.”
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