There is no evidence showing that adolescents’ and young adults’ social media use predicts later symptoms over time, according to a new research study appeared in Clinical Psychological Science. However, it did find that relatively high depressive symptoms among adolescent girls predict later social media use.
Findings of the study contrast the recent claims that increasing social media use among adolescents may lead to depression, primarily based on earlier studies that analyzed the links between average use of social medial and average well-being of an individual at a single point in time.
It requires to follow the same people over time to draw a conclusion that social media use predicts higher depressive symptoms, lead author Taylor Heffer said. The research team used two large longitudinal samples, enabling them to empirically test that assumption.
Starting in 2017, the team surveyed students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades in Ontario, Canada once a year for two years. Additionally, they carried out annual surveys of undergraduate participants, starting in their 1st year of university over a span a six years.
For measuring depressive symptoms, the team used Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale for young adults and an age-appropriate version of the same scale for the adolescents. All the study participants were asked two questions regarding the average daily hours spent on social media: one to measure weekday use and other to measure weekend use. The researchers also recorded answers about other screen time including watching TV and non-screen activities such as exercising and doing homework.
Then, they examined the data separately for each age group and gender.
The results revealed that social media use did not predict warning signs of depression over time among adolescents or undergraduate participants. Instead, greater depressive symptoms predicted later more social media use, but only among adolescent girls.
These findings contrast the idea that individuals who use a lot of social media are most likely to become depressed over time. Rather, adolescent females who are feeling down may make more use of social media to feel better.
Overall, the study suggests that the fear regarding the use of social media and its effects on mental health may be premature.