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Social media and digital wellbeing – summary of the latest evidence

girls on their phones

The International Gaming Research Unit, at Nottingham Trent University has published a useful summary of research into the risks of excessive or problematic use of social media during adolescence (download here).

In a nutshell, anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness, hostility, distraction, procrastination, obesity, diabetes, sleep disorders and poor dietary habits have all been linked to excessive or problematic social media use.

The short report is balanced, leading with the insight that social media can also offer important psychological benefits such as facilitating emotional support, community building and self-expression.

In addition, the report also points out that much of the research to date has been exploratory, small scale and only offers correlational evidence. So any conclusions from the research should be tentative.

Finally, report also makes the key point that much of this early research on social media and wellbeing has focused on overall time spent on social media, and that this may be unhelpful since the impact of social media may depend on particular social media activities (e.g. browsing vs posting) rather than overall time.

 Here’s a summary of the summary.

  • Social media can contribute to increases in overall screen time which has been linked to serious physical conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
  • Social media can contribute to increases in overall smartphone use which has been associated with negative outcomes, such as impaired social interactions, social isolation, as well as both somatic and mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and stress.
  • Social media use is linked to physical problems such as sleep deficit and poor dietary habits in some adolescents.
  • Social media use is linked to social problems such as such loneliness and hostility in some adolescents.
  • Social media is linked to psychological problems such as anxiety and depression in some adolescents.
  • Social media use is linked to other psychological problems such as cognitive impairment, with symptoms of distraction, procrastination and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in some adolescents.
  • Social media use is linked to symptoms associated with substance-related addictions and behavioural addictions, such as gambling addiction among some adolescents.
  • Young adolescents and those with a personality profile that includes elevated extraversion or neuroticism may be more at risk from addictive appeal of social media
  • Social media use is linked to emotional states such as fear or missing out (FOMO) and separation anxiety with smartphones (nomophobiano mobile phone phobia).

The full report “Excessive and problematic use of social media in adolescence: A brief overview” can be downloaded here

Griffiths, M., Fernadez, M. T., Pontes, H. M., & Kuss, D. J. (2018). Excessive and problematic use of social media in adolescence: A brief overview.

Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.