Limiting Social Media Significantly Decreases Depression, Loneliness

A groundbreaking new study out of the University of Pennsylvania titled No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression has shown, for the first time, a causal link between time spent on social media and significantly decreased well-being.

Previous studies into this issue have been correlational in nature. They've also been limited in time and/or scope, relied on self-reported information, included only one social media platform, or placed participants in unrealistic situations, such as suddenly abandoning social media use entirely or conducting the work in a lab.

"We set out to do a much more comprehensive, rigorous study that was also more ecologically valid," says Melissa G. Hunt, associate director of clinical training in Penn's Psychology Department. To that end, the team conducted a four-week-long study relying on app usage data automatically collected by participants' iPhones. The study is described as "the first ecologically valid, experimental investigation that examines multiple social media platforms and tracks actual usage objectively."

From the researchers:

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Introduction: Given the breadth of correlational research linking social media use to worse well-being, we undertook an experimental study to investigate the potential causal role that social media plays in this relationship.

Method: After a week of baseline monitoring, 143 undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania were randomly assigned to either limit Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat use to 10 minutes, per platform, per day, or to use social media as usual for three weeks.

Results: The limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group. Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baseline, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring.

Discussion: 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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"Here's the bottom line: using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness," Hunt says. "These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study."

A PDF outlining the full study can be downloaded here.

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