Social media researchers have largely focused on how it influences youth and college students, and many studies have found deleterious effects. But a new study contends that much of the negatively associated with the use of social media may be attributed to life stages rather than technology use.
Indeed, the Michigan State University study suggests regular use of social media and the Internet can improve mental health among adults and help reduce the risk of serious psychological distress such as depression and anxiety.
Dr. Keith Hampton, professor of media and information at Michigan State University believes communication technologies and social media platforms make it easier to maintain relationships and access health information.
Hampton believes the negative impression of social media has come about because adults have not been the focus of research on the subject.
“Taking a snapshot of the anxiety felt by young people today and concluding that a whole generation is at risk because of social media ignores more noteworthy social changes, such as the lingering effects of the Great Recession, the rise in single child families, older and more protective parents, more kids going to college and rising student debt,” he said.
In the new study, Hampton examined more mature populations, analyzing data from more than 13,000 relationships from adult participants in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the world’s longest-running household survey.
He used 2015 and 2016 data, which included a series of questions about the use of communication technologies and psychological distress. Hampton found social media users are 63 percent less likely to experience serious psychological distress from one year to the next, including major depression or serious anxiety.
Moreover, having extended family members on social media further reduced psychological distress, so long as their family member’s mental health was not in decline. The study appears in the Journal of Computer Mediated-Communication.
Investigators believe the research findings challenge the notion that social media, mobile technologies and the Internet amount to a mental health crisis in the United States.
Other key findings include:
- someone who uses a social networking site is 1.63 times more likely to avoid serious psychological distress;
- the extent to which communication technologies affect psychological distress varies according to the type and amount of technologies people and their extended family members use;
- changes to the mental health of family members affect the psychological distress experienced by other family, but only if both family members are connected on a social networking site.
“Today, we have these ongoing, little bits of information popping up on our cell phones and Facebook feeds, and that ongoing contact might matter for things like mental health,” Hampton said.
Source: Michigan State University