The link between media exposure and adolescent emotional health continues to be a hot research area. In a new study, researchers found that teens who spend more time listening to music, rather than reading books, are more likely to be depressed.
Researchers said this study was unique as it sampled the behaviors of study participants in real time using a technique called ecological momentary assessment.
The method is more reliable than standard surveys and helped researchers recognize this large association between exposure to music and depression, said Brian Primack, M.D., Ed.M., M.S., assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Pitt’s School of Medicine, who led the study.
Some 106 teens were involved in the study, 46 of whom were diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
As part of the real-life assessment, the teens were called as many as 60 times during five extended weekends over two months. During the call, researchers asked the teen to report if they were using any of six types of media: television or movies, music, video games, Internet, magazines or newspapers, and books.
Music appeared to make a difference as young people who were exposed to the most music, compared to those who listened to music the least, were 8.3 times more likely to be depressed.
Reading appears to show protective value as those who read books the most were one-tenth as likely to be depressed.
The other media exposures were not significantly associated with depression.
“At this point, it is not clear whether depressed people begin to listen to more music to escape, or whether listening to large amounts of music can lead to depression, or both. Either way, these findings may help clinicians and parents recognize links between media and depression,” Primack said.
“It also is important that reading was associated with less likelihood of depression. This is worth emphasizing because overall in the U.S., reading books is decreasing, while nearly all other forms of media use are increasing.”
Major depressive disorder, also referred to as clinical or major depression, is the leading cause of disability in the world. Its onset is typically in adolescence and is thought to affect one in 12 teenagers, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
The University of Pittsburgh study is published in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.