Social Media Use Can Increase Feelings of Loneliness Among Adults

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-06 05:14

Social media use supposedly connects people, but young adults are feeling more disconnected than ever.

With social media, people are more able to interact with others. Contacting friends and family living far away is easier, and reaching out to others in real time is now possible. You can take a peek into your favorite celebrity's life or find out what your ex is up to nowadays. With all these ways to reach out to others, you'd think that social media would make people feel less alone. However, a recent study has found that social media is making people feel more lonely instead of more connected.

Dr. Brian Primack and his team of researchers wanted to discover how social media use affects the mental health of young adults. "This is an important issue to study because mental health problems and social isolation are at epidemic levels among young adults," said Dr. Primack.

You may have thousands of social media friends and followers, but how genuine is the connection?

The Effects of Heavy Social Media Use

The research team gathered 1,787 respondents, all adults aged 19 to 32. The respondents answered questionnaires asking them to detail how often they used specific examples of social media platforms. The platforms included Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Reddit.

To assess the self-perceived feelings of social isolation in the respondents, the team used a standard technique. The Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System is able to measure the social, physical, and mental well-being of respondents. Using this system, the researchers were able to come to a conclusion.

The team found that using social media for more than two hours a day doubles the likelihood of feeling socially isolated. Using social media 58 times a week, meanwhile, triples this likelihood.

According to the researchers, the causality between loneliness and social media use isn't quite clear yet. It's possible that respondents already felt socially isolated before using social media. It's also possible that they felt more isolated from the real world because of social media. It could also be a combination of both circumstances. One thing is clear, though: the use of social media does not alleviate feelings of social isolation.

The Price of Loneliness

Not being invited to a night out is tough enough, but finding out about it on social media is worse.

The researchers speculate that social media may cause or exacerbate loneliness because people spend less time on actual human interactions. Seeing social media photos of friends at a gathering you didn't know about can also cause feelings of exclusion.

Another possible cause is the idealized and curated way people present themselves on social media. People may feel jealous if they see a friend post photos of a brand-new car or a nice vacation.

Alarmingly, feelings of isolation and loneliness can even shorted lifespans. Another study has found a correlation between these feelings and increased risk of death. Loneliness increases mortality risk by 26%, while social isolation increases it by 29%.

Dr. Primack admits that some people may feel genuinely connected and comforted by social media use. According to his team's findings, however, social media generally tends to increase feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

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