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Feel less depressed by limiting social media use to just 30 minutes a day

Feel less depressed by limiting social media use to just 30 minutes a day

Feel less depressed by limiting social media use to just 30 minutes a day

Social media use increases depression and loneliness, new study finds.

While the link between the two has been talked about for years, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram (social media) may not be great for personal well-being. The first experimental study out of University of Pennsylvania examined the use of multiple platforms, and shows a link between time spent on these social media and increased depression and loneliness.

Psychologist Melissa G. Hunt published her findings in the December Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Few prior studies have attempted to show that social-media use harms users’ well-being, and those that have either put participants in unrealistic situations or were limited in scope, asking them to completely forego Facebook and relying on self-report data, for example, or conducting the work in a lab in as little time as an hour.

“We set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid,” says Hunt, associate director of clinical training in Penn’s Psychology Department.

To that end, the research team designed an experiment to include the three platforms most popular with a cohort of undergraduates, and then collected objective usage data automatically tracked by iPhones for active apps, not those running the background.

First, 143 students completed surveys to measure their well-being at the start of the experiment. Then the students were randomly assigned into one of two groups who either used social media sites as usual or had their usage of the sites limited. The sites in question were Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, three of the most popular social media sites among college-aged people, and the experiment went on for three weeks.

After the three weeks were up, the students were surveyed again using the same tools to measure their well-being.

“Here’s the bottom line,” she says. “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.”

Hunt stresses that the findings do not suggest that 18- to 22-year-olds should stop using social media altogether. In fact, she built the study as she did to stay away from what she considers an unrealistic goal. The work does, however, speak to the idea that limiting screen time on these apps couldn’t hurt.

“It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely,” she says. But when she digs a little deeper, the findings make sense. “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.”

Because this particular work only looked at Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, it’s not clear whether it applies broadly to other social-media platforms. Hunt also hesitates to say that these findings would replicate for other age groups or in different settings.

Hunt does however say that the findings do offer two related conclusions it couldn’t hurt any social-media user to follow.

For one, reduce opportunities for social comparison, she says. “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.” Secondly, she adds, because these tools are here to stay, it’s incumbent on society to figure out how to use them in a way that limits damaging effects. “In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life.”

In conclusion, the authors of the research write: “Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.”

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