Researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at University of Oxford used an eight-year survey of UK households to study how long teenagers spent using social media on a normal school day and their corresponding life satisfaction ratings.
This is the first large-scale and in-depth study testing not only whether adolescents who report more social media use have lower life satisfaction but also whether the reverse is true. The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), used improved data and statistical approaches and found most links between life satisfaction and social media use were trivial.
However, there were some bidirectional effects: Lower life satisfaction led to increased social media use and vice versa, researchers said.
These bidirectional effects were more consistent for females than for males, but again, these were modest trends, they said. The researchers stress that this represents an important step in understanding the effects of social media.
“Given the rapid pace of technological advancement in recent years, the question of how our increasing use of technology to interact with each other affects our wellbeing has become increasingly important,” said Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the OII.
“With most of the current debate based on lacklustre evidence, this study represents an important step towards mapping the effects of technology on adolescent well-being,” Przybylski said.
Previous literature was based almost entirely on correlations with no means to dissociate whether social media use leads to changes in life satisfaction or vice versa.
“More than half of the statistical models we tested were not significant, and those that were significant suggested the effects were not as simple as often stated in the media,” said Tobias Dienlin from the University of Hohenheim in Germany.
“Most statistically significant models examined teenage girls. However, because these effects were tiny, they weren’t significantly larger in girls compared to boys,” Dienlin said.