despite what you might think, social media has NOT destroyed a generation!

despite what you might think, social media has NOT destroyed a generation!

Are you worried about the impact social media has or might have on your happiness / mental health?

Are you worried about the happiness / mental health of your children or friends or colleagues?

If so, you might not need to be …

via Scientific American by Lydia Denworth


  • Anxiety about the effects of social media on young people has risen to such an extreme that giving children smartphones is sometimes equated to handing them a gram of cocaine. The reality is much less alarming.
  • A close look at social media use shows that most young texters and Instagrammers are fine. Heavy use can lead to problems, but many early studies and news headlines have overstated dangers and omitted context.
  • Researchers are now examining these diverging viewpoints, looking for nuance and developing better methods for measuring whether social media and related technologies have any meaningful impact on mental health.

It was the headlines that most upset Amy Orben. In 2017, when she was a graduate student in experimental psychology at the University of Oxford researching how social media influences communication, alarming articles began to appear. Giving a child a smartphone was like giving a kid cocaine, claimed one. Smartphones might have destroyed a generation, said another. Orben didn’t think such extreme statements were warranted. At one point, she stayed up all night reanalyzing data from a paper linking increases in depression and suicide to screen time. “I figured out that tweaks to the data analysis caused major changes to the study results,” Orben says. “The effects were actually tiny.”

She published several blog posts, some with her Oxford colleague Andrew K. Przybylski, saying so. “Great claims require great evidence,” she wrote in one. “Yet this kind of evidence does not exist.” Then Orben decided to make her point scientifically and changed the focus of her work. With Przybylski, she set out to rigorously analyze the large-scale data sets that are widely used in studies of social media.

The two researchers were not the only ones who were concerned. A few years ago Jeff Hancock, a psychologist who runs the Social Media Lab at Stanford University, set an alert to let him know when his research was cited by other scientists in their papers. As the notifications piled up in his in-box, he was perplexed. A report on the ways that Facebook made people more anxious would be followed by one about how social media enhances social capital. “What is going on with all these conflicting ideas?” Hancock wondered. How could they all be citing his work? He decided to seek clarity and embarked on the largest meta-analysis to date of the effects of social media on psychological well-being. Ultimately he included 226 papers and data on more than 275,000 people.

The results of Orben’s, Przybylski’s and Hancock’s efforts are now in. Studies from these researchers and others, published or presented in 2019, have brought some context to the question of what exactly digital technology is doing to our mental health. Their evidence makes several things clear. The results to date have been mixed because the effects measured are themselves mixed. “Using social media is essentially a trade-off,” Hancock says. “You get very small but significant advantages for your well-being that come with very small but statistically significant costs.” The emphasis is on “small”—at least in terms of effect size, which gauges the strength of the relation between two variables. Hancock’s meta-analysis revealed an overall effect size of 0.01 on a scale in which 0.2 is small. Przybylski and Orben measured the percent of variance in well-being that was explained by social media use and found that technology was no more associated with decreased well-being for teenagers than eating potatoes. Wearing glasses was worse. “The monster-of-the-week thing is dead in the water,” Przybylski says.

Furthermore, this new research reveals serious limitations and shortcomings in the science of social media to date. Eighty percent of studies have been cross-sectional (looking at individuals at a given point in time) and correlational (linking two measures such as frequency of Facebook use and level of anxiety but not showing that one causes the other). Most have relied on self-reported use, a notoriously unreliable measure. Nearly all assess only frequency and duration of use rather than content or context. “We’re asking the wrong questions,” Hancock says. And results are regularly overstated—sometimes by the scientists, often by the media. “Social media research is the perfect storm showing us where all the problems are with our scientific methodology,” Orben says. “This challenges us as scientists to think about how we measure things and what sort of effect size we think is important.”

To be clear, it is not that social media is never a problem. Heavy use is associated with potentially harmful effects on well-being. But effects from social media appear to depend on the user—age and mental health status are two important factors that make a difference. Also, cause and effect appear to go in both directions. “It’s a two-way street,” Hancock says.

The hope is that the field will use these new findings to embark on a new science of social media that will set higher standards for statistical analysis, avoid preposterous claims, and include more experimental and longitudinal studies, which track people at multiple time points. “We don’t want to be a field in which we say that potato eating has destroyed a generation,” says clinical neuropsychologist Tracy Dennis-Tiwary of Hunter College. “Despite our concerns, we need to pull ourselves together and act like scientists. We have to have adequate evidence.”

…keep reading the full & original article HERE