Looking to improve your wellbeing? A compelling new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has found that limiting your social media usage to 30 minutes a day can help lift depression and loneliness.
The study, published in December’s Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, is one of the first to show causation — rather than just correlation — between social media usage and mental health.
The Perfect Subjects
For the study, researchers recruited a bunch of prime users of social media — 143 undergraduate students aged between 18 and 22 — and tested them over two semesters. One group of students was instructed to limit its time on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to just 30 minutes a day, while those in a control group continued using social media as they normally would.
Participants completed a survey to determine mood and well-being at the study’s start and captured screen screenshots to help determine a baseline for social-media data. For the next three weeks, participants shared screenshots to provide researchers weekly social media tallies for each individual. Researchers then took that data and looked at seven outcome measures including fear of missing out, anxiety, depression and loneliness.
The Bottom Line
The result? “Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness,” lead researcher Melissa Hunt told Science Daily. “These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”
Not that you should stop using social media altogether. Or try to, at least — Hunt built the study in a way that acknowledges pulling the plug completely on the social media is probably an unrealistic goal. This is more about making people aware of the importance of limiting screen time.
“It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely,” Hunt said. “[But] some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.”
As with most scientific studies, there are a few caveats. Would these findings replicate for other age groups or in different settings? Also, the study only looked at Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, limiting its scope to determine general social media use. Hunt says these aspects will be the subject of future research.