Huge New Study Finds Almost No Evidence That Social Media Makes Kids Unhappy
from the don't-always-buy-the-narrative dept
Among the many narratives making the rounds these days about how terrible the internet and social media apparently are, one popular trope is the idea that using social media makes people depressed. Just last year there was a study purporting to show that limiting your social media use could limit depression. But that study was conducted by an undergrad at UPenn, based on just 143 other UPenn students. Not exactly the most rigorous of studies. A much more thorough, careful, and methodologically sound study was just released finding little impact on “adolescent life satisfaction” from using social media. The study was conducted by three researchers at Oxford’s well-respected Internet Institute, including Professor Andrew Przybylski, who has a history of very thoughtful work in this space. The conclusions suggest that there’s perhaps more of a moral panic among some about social media than any actual evidence:
In this study, we used large-scale representative panel data to disentangle the between-person and within-person relations linking adolescent social media use and well-being. We found that social media use is not, in and of itself, a strong predictor of life satisfaction across the adolescent population. Instead, social media effects are nuanced, small at best, reciprocal over time, gender specific, and contingent on analytic methods.
As the report notes, most past research in this space is not great, often leading to “trivial trends” being “routinely over-interpreted by those under increasing pressure to rapidly craft evidence-based policies.” The study was carefully done, involved a very large number of individuals (over 12,000), and tries to tease out the actual impact, and where that is, rather than generalize across the board.
Discussing the study with the BBC, Przybylski noted that social media seems to be a tiny blip in terms of impacting how kids feel.
Their study concluded that most links between life satisfaction and social media use were “trivial”, accounting for less than 1% of a teenager’s wellbeing – and that the effect of social media was “not a one-way street”.
Prof Przybylski, director of research at the institute, said: “99.75% of a person’s life satisfaction has nothing to do with their use of social media.”
“Parents shouldn’t worry about time on social media – thinking about it that way is wrong,” Prof Przybylski said.
“We are fixated on time – but we need to retire this notion of screen time.
“The results are not showing evidence for great concern.”
Of course, many people already have their minds made up on this, but it’s nice to see a thorough, and detailed study to counter some of the myths.