A new study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology has found that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to a significant improvement in wellbeing.
The research, based on a scientific experiment, involved 143 undergraduate students who either continued using social media as usual (control group) or restricted their use of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat use to 10 minutes, per platform, per day (experimental group) for a trial period of three weeks.
Those who limited their use of social media to 30 minutes per day showed significant reductions in loneliness (as measured by the UCLA Loneliness Scale) and symptoms associated with depression (as measured by the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II)).
Interestingly, all participants experienced significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over pre-study baseline levels. The authors of the study, Dr. Melissa Hunt and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, suggest that this might be explained by how participating in the study prompted people to become mindful of their social media use and its potential impact on wellbeing.
This is good news for the new digital wellbeing tools integrated into iOS and Android that encourage self-monitoring and goal-setting for social media and overall screentime. Simply noting our daily and weekly consumption might be enough to prompt changes in behaviour and offset negative impact. And given uncertainty about how much is too much when it comes to social media, the study lays an initial evidence-based stake in sand as to limits – 30 minutes or 10 minutes per day per platform has been shown to improve wellbeing.
The full report can be downloaded here, and there are some important caveats to be noted. Firstly, the study was conducted before the digital wellbeing tools in iOS were launched (all participants were iPhone users), so there was no sure way to ensure that participants did actually reduce their social media consumption. Secondly, the study only limited access to three social media platforms on a iPhone among undergraduate students. There’s more to social media than Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, more to digital devices than the iPhone, and more to the world than US undergraduate students. Thirdly, the short duration of the study meant only short term improvements in wellbeing were measured.
Nevertheless, the study does show that simple interventions to self-monitor and self-regulate our use of social media can have beneficial effects.
Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 751-768.