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.

Filed Under: depression, happiness, kids, social media, study


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 9:45am

    Social media doesn't make me unhappy

    People ON social media do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 9:49am

    I feel the need to point out that the "143 UPenn students" test were of college students and the massive 12,000+ study on adolescents was on, well, adolescents.

    Apples and oranges on top of the vastly different sample sizes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dank710 (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 10:01am

    I dont need a study to tell me social media causes depression

    IT DOES. No study needed. It's offensive that people don't take this serious and only believe there is a problem if study backs it up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 11:17am

      Re: I dont need a study to tell me social media causes depressio

      An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. It isn't just contradiction.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 11:54am

      Re: I dont need a study to tell me social media causes depressio

      There are some who have the opinion that our present day political environment is causing massive depression, anxiety and anger.

      Do you think many political types care?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 12:18pm

      Re: I dont need a study to tell me social media causes depressio

      It's offensive that people don't take this serious and only believe there is a problem if study backs it up.

      You're offended that people prefer to make decisions based on science rather than gut feelings?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 5:12am

      Re: I dont need a study to tell me social media causes depressio

      "IT DOES. No study needed. It's offensive that people don't take this serious and only believe there is a problem if study backs it up."

      The problem with your statement is that if i say "on the contrary, social media is healthy for most children" I suddenly have as much credibility as you do, without some for of actual fact check for verification.

      The truth is that the online environment is nothing but a communications network. Some places are fit for kids to go, other places, not so much.

      Much the same as the way we today raise children to not visit some parts of town, or to know they should stay away from random strangers. It's all up to teaching children where they can and can not go.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Zof (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 10:06am

    WE MUST PROTECT OUR ECHO CHAMBER!

    "You get stories out there now! Commission a fake study immediately!"

    Looking at the twitter addicts that make up the Oxford Internet Institute, it's not surprising to me at all that their study would be so biased.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 10:16am

      Re: WE MUST PROTECT OUR ECHO CHAMBER!

      Since you have claimed a bias, I assume you have examined the study and its data and its results and can point to places where you believe Bias affected the results? The study points out that the contradictory studies examine small numbers of people over short periods of time and that it seems that the trends seen in those reports smooth out over larger number of people and longer time scales featured in this report. Can you point to methodologies or ignored data that contradicts that conclusion?

      If not, your claims of bias are unfounded and based on emotion and preconception, not facts.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 10:23am

      Re: WE MUST PROTECT OUR ECHO CHAMBER!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 10:27am

    Causation != Correlation

    The link was always dubious - just because the younger generation is diagnosed as more depressed and has greater access to social media doesn't mean it caused depression or even that depression is rising! Better awareness and diagnosis could lead to a rise.

    Second refugee seeking behavior is a well established thing for depression - even if the particular behavior is unhelpful doesn't mean it is the root cause. Someone who is a depressed and becomes an alcoholic is self medicating poorly. Even if there is a real link and it is a negative factor doesn't mean doing away with it is a pancaea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 10:38am

    This study is depressing

    Obviously social media causes depression and we don't need studies for that.
    Also, video games cause violence. Marijuana causes heroin, and homosexuality causes flooding.

    Who needs science when you have opinions?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 10:47am

      Re: This study is depressing

      Just remember though that just because homosexuality causes flooding doesn't mean every flood was caused by a homosexual.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 11:43am

    Well, well, well, lets just look at the other papers and articles published by Prof Przybylski. OK I can see the pattern here, Oh and the BBC pushing this as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 12:16pm

      Re:

      OK I can see the pattern here

      Yes, a pattern of peer-reviewed papers, work for well established and respected school, and studies about mental health.

      Checks out.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 12:59pm

        Re: Re:

        Yep, no left wing social Marxism to see here.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 5:16am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Yep, no left wing social Marxism to see here."

          Correct. Not a single shred of it.

          Now, if you have doubts about the study by all means raise them. Right now you are just objecting to the conclusion of basic math because the author may have an opinion you don't care for.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 11:56am

    There is the possibility that kids are diagnosed with depression so that the pharma corps make more money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 12:39pm

    It funny..and the concepts of Social ideals has been proven.

    THAT:
    Everyone needs..
    A place to complain.
    A person or location to ASK questions.
    Someplace to get info about situations they cant/wont discuss with a parent.
    A friend that can HELP.
    A way to see the OTHER side of a coin.
    A place to be ANONYMOUS..
    ANSWERS...
    It has been shown that an individual will TALK/discuss things with a STRANGER long before he will take things to those around them....BECAUSE, deep down, he has the thought, he will NEVER see this person again(its a secret), and they dont know WHO I am(Its a secret)..
    The REAL problem tends to be getting a Good answer to the problems they are having..NOT another kids observations.

    Going to a forum or Scial site is GREAT, if you can hide yourself...BE who you want to be..
    BUT, its also nice if there is a knowledgeable person there.. Nice if we had a Psychologist there.. To watch, assist, discuss..What is happening and if nothing ELSE, study the problem, find the ramifications of what Could happen, and help if needed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      bob, 21 May 2019 @ 1:38pm

      Re: It funny..and the concepts of Social ideals has been proven.

      The only difference between past generations and the current adolescent generation is that social media makes some of the things they do faster/easier. Sometimes that's good like getting advice and sharing concerns or meeting new people you wouldn't normally have ever met. Other times that's bad like bullying, stalking, and that images never disappear on the Internet.

      The activities are similar, just the mechanism has changed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 21 May 2019 @ 5:40pm

        Re: Re: It funny..and the concepts of Social ideals has been pro

        Yep..
        the Difficulty is KNOWING this and getting things to Help..
        We used to have boys and girls clubs..
        We used to have Preachers that would listen and not take advantage..
        The only person, SAID, to be private if your Doctors...and they COST money..

        As most of you adults understand...You are not Unique. The odds are that Someone/everyone has HAD that problem.
        If you Do find something Unique, tell us, we can all make money and we can find Doctors that will LOVE to see you..

        I love the itnernet, I like finding out things I dont know.. I love the entertainment on YT, the silly/weird/different/... That is everywhere..

        But everyone has problems, and we DO need people to talk to. Those voices in your head, May not be what you need to listen to.. And your school problems, if they get BAD, your parents or Someone Should get in there and FIX it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    stine, 21 May 2019 @ 2:38pm

    Happy should not have been the test

    The test should have been mental stability, self confidence, interpersonal interactions that don't involve a keyboard', etc.

    Someone I know recently had a friend over. They put on a movie and then sat on opposite sides of the room and did nothing but stare and type away at their phones for more than 3 hours.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      bob, 21 May 2019 @ 3:03pm

      Re: Happy should not have been the test

      Yeah the physical interpersonal skills are not as well established when you are not regularly using them.

      Think of it as a new skill to level up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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