Study Finds That The Way People Use Social Media Impacts Their Well-Being

The use of social media can be either good or bad for the mental heath of those using it, depending on how it’s being used.

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Research from the University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan campus indicates that when it comes to social media, what's most important for happiness is how a person uses it.

Derrick Wirtz, associate professor of teaching in psychology at the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at UBC, analyzed how people used Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and how that use can impact their overall well-being.

"Social network sites are an integral part of everyday life for many people around the world," says Wirtz. "Every day, billions of people interact with social media. Yet the widespread use of social network sites stands in sharp contrast to a comparatively small body of research on how this use impacts a person's happiness."

As part of the study, participants were asked about four specific functions of Facebook: checking a newsfeed, messaging, catching up on world news and posting status/picture updates. The most frequently used function was passively checking one's newsfeed i.e., the participants primarily used Facebook without directly connecting with other users.

The research (conducted before the pandemic) found that although people used social media more when they were lonely, time spent on social media only increased feelings of loneliness. Further, the more people used any of these three social media sites, the more negative they reported feeling afterwards. 

The study also included offline interactions with others, either in person or on the phone. In comparing the offline and online communications, Wirtz was able to demonstrate that offline social interaction had the opposite effect of using social media, strongly enhancing emotional well-being.

"Viewing images and updates that selectively portray others positively may lead social media users to underestimate how much others actually experience negative emotions and lead people to conclude that their own lifewith its mix of positive and negative feelingsis, by comparison, not as good," noted Wirtz. "We need to remember how we use social media has the potential to shape the effects on our day-to-day happiness.

"If we all remember to do that, the negative impact of social media use could be reducedand social networks sites could even have the potential to improve our well-being and happiness," he concluded. 

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