By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
MarketWatch photo illustration/Getty Images, iStockphoto
Finally, some good news that both Facebook investors and users can get behind.
Social-media sites like Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -2.05% , which has 2.38 billion users worldwide, Instagram, Snapchat /zigman2/quotes/205087158/composite SNAP -1.30% and Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -1.90% make it easier to maintain relationships, access health information, improve mental health and even avoid serious psychological distress, according to a new study by Keith Hampton, professor of media and information at Michigan State University.
‘Taking a snapshot of the anxiety felt by young people today and concluding that a whole generation is at risk because of social media ignores more noteworthy social changes.’
—Keith Hampton, professor of media and information at Michigan State University
“Taking a snapshot of the anxiety felt by young people today and concluding that a whole generation is at risk because of social media ignores more noteworthy social changes, such as the lingering effects of the Great Recession, the rise in single-child families, older and more protective parents, more kids going to college and rising student debt,” he said.
In a study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Computer Mediated-Communication, Hampton analyzed 2015/2016 data from 26,000 people or 13,000 adult relationships in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which is widely regarded as the world’s longest-running household survey. That survey includes a series of questions about social-media platforms and psychological distress.
What Hampton found runs contrary to a raft of studies that have suggested a relationship between social media and isolation and depression. Social-media users are 63% less likely to experience serious psychological distress, Hampton said. Connecting with extended family members on social media also helped, as long as those family member’s mental health was not in decline.
He also concluded that social networkers are actually 1.63 times more likely to avoid serious psychological distress. The extent to which these sites affect emotional and mental-health issues like anxiety and depression varies depending on the platform and the people you interact with. It’s better to connect with family members over, say, friends or old school friends, Hampton found.
Not everyone agrees. A separate recent study conducted by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania showed quite the opposite — a link between time spent on social media and depression and loneliness. Those who drastically cut back their use of sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat felt significantly better about their circumstances.
Having more Facebook friends may also be a predictor of fewer symptoms of mild and major depression, but it can also make you feel that everyone else’s life is more successful than yours.
—Larry Rosen, past chair of the psychology department at California State University
“It was striking,” Melissa Hunt, psychology professor at University of Pennsylvania, who led the study, said. Over the course of three weeks, that rates of depression and loneliness fell significantly for people who limited their asocial media use.” Many of those who began the study with moderate clinical depression finished just a few weeks later with very mild symptoms, she added.
The study, “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” was conducted by Melissa Hunt, Rachel Marx, Courtney Lipson and Jordyn Young, is being published by the peer-reviewed Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology . For the study, Hunt and her team studied 143 undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 2012, Larry Rosen, past chair of the psychology department at California State University and author of “iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us,” analyzed 800 Facebook members, and found those who most often “like” other people’s activities on Facebook are more likely to show symptoms of “mania” and “compulsivity.”
On a happier note, having more Facebook friends may also be a predictor of fewer symptoms of mild and major depression, indicating that people who are popular online are well-adjusted in real life too, earlier research by Rosen found. But he cautioned that it cuts both ways: Social media can also make you feel that everyone else’s life is better, happier and more successful than your own.
Facebook is up 50.4% year to date, compared to a rise of 14.7% on the Dow Jones Industrial /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.78% and an increase of 18.5% on the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.05% over the same period.
(Brett Arends contributed to this story.)