Emotional well-being impacted by social media

Emotional well-being

New research from UBC Okanagan suggests what’s most important for total emotional well-being is the way a individual uses social media.

Derrick Wirtz, an associate professor of teaching in psychology at The Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, took a close look at how people use three major societal platforms–Facebook, Twitter and Instagram–and how that use may affect a individual’s emotional 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.”

Even before COVID-19 and self-isolation became regular practice, Wirtz says social media has transformed how we interact with others. Face-to-face, in-person communication is currently matched or surpassed by online social interactions as the primary way people connect. While most people gain emotional well-being from interacting with others face, Wirtz notes some come away from using social media using a sense of negativity–for a variety of different explanations.

One issue is social comparison. The more they compared to other people while using social networking, the less happy they were.

“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 life–with its mix of positive and negative feelings–is, by comparison, not as good,” he says.

Wirtz notes that viewing other people’s posts and images while not interacting together lends itself to contrast with no mood-boosting benefits that ordinarily follow social contact, undermining well-being and decreasing self-esteem. “Passive use, scrolling through others’ posts and updates, involves little person-to-person reciprocal interaction while providing ample opportunity for upward comparison.”

As part of his research, research participants were asked about four specific functions of Facebook–checking a news feed, messaging, catching up on world news and posting status or picture updates.. Participants primarily used Facebook without directly linking with different users, and also the negative effects on subjective well-being were consistent with this form of usage.

The more people used any of those three social media websites, the more negative they reported feeling later. “The three social network sites examined–Facebook, Twitter and Instagram–yielded remarkably convergent findings,” he says. “The more respondents had recently used these sites, either in aggregate or individually, the more negative effect they reported when they responded to our randomly-timed surveys over a 10-day period.”

Wirtz’s study also included offline interactions with other people, either face-to-face or a phone call. Assessing both offline communicating with online, he managed to show offline social interaction had precisely the opposite effect of utilizing social media, successfully improving emotional well-being.

But all is not lost, Wirtz States, as this research also reveals how people can utilize social media favorably, something more important during COVID-19. He suggests people prevent tabbed scrolling and resist comparing themselves to other social media users. In addition, he says people should use social networking websites to enable direct interactions and social connectedness–for instance, talking online synchronously or arranging time spent with other people in-person, when possible and with proper precautions.

“If we all remember to do that, the negative impact of social media use could be reduced–and social networks sites could even have the potential to improve our well-being and happiness,” he adds. “In other words, we need to remember how we use social media has the potential to shape the effects on our day-to-day happiness.”

Related Journal Article: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-020-00291-z

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