This age of technology has allowed us to acquire an easy access to the world-wide-web. A large portion of the internet users has social media accounts. It’s fact that social media plays an enormous role in our daily lives. In fact, one study claims that an average Facebook user spends an hour browsing the feed. A Deloitte survey has also found that majority of smart phone users check their social media accounts first thing in the morning, even before they get out of bed. Though social interaction has a positive impact on health and well-being, the effect could be different when interactions are done through screens. Researchers are in a constant hunt for answers. One of them is this study published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Years have passed, and experts are still figuring out how social media affects our overall health, and the different aspects of our life. Earlier studies unearthed the deepest influences of these portions of the web to humanity. Some of the researches revealed that social media use may diminish the value of in-person relationships, may deter meaningful activities, may heighten sedentary behavior, may result in internet addiction, and may lower self-esteem due to pessimistic self-comparison.
Self-comparison can be harmful to well-being, and it may land a strong impact to human behavior. Social media users tend to polish their profiles, and choose to display positive aspects of their life. Portraying such ‘perfect’ lives on social media may cause individuals to negatively compare their lives to others. However, some experts premise, it’s also possible that people with low self-esteem tend to use social media more, rather than social media use is the cause of self-esteem reduction. On the other hand, not all studies suggest negative effects of social media use in humans. Others say, social media is a useful tool to increase social support, and it reinforces real life relationships.
From all these presumptions, hypothesis and theories, this new study conducted by Shakya HB, and Christakis NA wished to see a clearer view of the bridge between human life and social media. Thus, in their study, they used three waves for better calculation of results and accuracy. They used the data gathered from 5,208 adults from a national longitudinal panel maintained by the Gallup organization. The researchers also used different measures of Facebook usage, including liking others’ posts, creating one’s own posts, and clicking on links. For measurement of well-being, the experts included life satisfaction, self-reported mental health, self-reported physical health, and body-mass index (BMI). The experts also included the respondents’ real-world social networks. They asked each wave to name four close friends whom they discuss important matters with, and four more friends whom they spend their free time.
The researchers believe that their study has three strong points compared to prior studies under the same topic. First, they had three waves of respondents that were under observation for two years. Their long-term observation allowed them to see the changes happening on social media and its impact in the changing world. Second, they have gathered data that were directly pulled from personal accounts, rather than just self-reported information. Third, the researchers had connections with the respondents’ real-life social network. It enabled the experts to get data and compare it from two different influences: face-to-face and online interaction. However, the study still has limitations. Such as, they don’t have full access to every person in the Gallup’s social media account.
The results of the study showed that, “overall, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with well-being.” Though real-life social interactions are beneficial to human health and well-being, social interactions done virtually can cause an opposite impact. The effects observed were mainly on the individuals’ mental health. Large portions of the measurements gathered predicted a decrease in mental health a year later. Researchers found that both liking other people’s status, and clicking on the links have subsequent reductions in self-reported mental health, physical health, and life contentment.
As mentioned earlier, the study included real-life social networks. When they compared the respondent’s initial well-being, initial real-world networks, and initial level of Facebook use, they learned that there’s a greater chance of diminished well-being in the future with an increased Facebook use.
Though the numbers clearly showed that well-being diminishes as Facebook use increases, the researchers couldn’t be definite about how it occurs. There were no significant differences in the results of liking, posting or clicking links. However, contrary to the initial assumption where liking posts can lead to negative self-comparison, it’s updating one’s own posts and clicking links that had a similar effect. Moreover, the overall results imply that the quantity rather than only quality of use can lead to a declined well-being.
According to the researchers of the study, the results may also be relevant to the use of other social media platforms. However, the quantity of use may be different from one platform to another.
Though it’s obvious that screen time can bring unfavorable effects, the use of social media can confuse us that we are engaging in meaningful interactions. The experts say, the results imply that online social connections can never be a substitute to the real-life human connections that is beneficial to having a healthy life.