Anyone who has spent time on Facebook or Instagram has experienced ... let's call them negative emotions. But new research suggests that using social media is actually less stress-inducing than you might think.
In a study called "Social Media and the Cost of Caring," scientists at the Pew Research Center used the Perceived Stress Scale to quiz over 1,800 adults. The results showed that "frequent internet and social media users do not have higher levels of stress. In fact, for women, the opposite is true for at least some digital technologies. Holding other factors constant, women who use Twitter, email and cellphone picture sharing report lower levels of stress."
That said, "there are circumstances under which the social use of digital technology increases awareness of stressful events in the lives of others. Especially for women, this greater awareness is tied to higher levels of stress and it has been called 'the cost of caring.'"
Speaking to Smithsonian about the study, sociologist Dhiraj Murthy, who is not affiliated with the Pew Research Center, said he was unsurprised by its results.
"This awareness and sharing can have positive impacts on our psychosocial lives. Specifically, if we — in our very busy and increasingly individualized lives — become more social via social media, this could reduce our stress levels, as sharing and more communal behaviors have historically been tied to better mental health."
While the relationship between social media and stress is complex, many such studies focused on heavy users, Murthy says. In general, the common perception of most social media users as gadget-addicted stress cases doesn't hold up to scrutiny.
"There are of course individuals in this camp, but they generally represent the exception rather than the rule," says Murthy. "Rather, many laugh as they see pictures of new babies in the family on social media. Others share about what they are eating or what movie they just watched. Again, rather than stress-inducing, these forms of social communication can be stress-reducing for some."
That said, Murthy did allow that social awareness "can be double edged," particularly when social media users were made aware of negative events, such as job loss or illness, in the lives of their online connections. In those cases, the study found, "awareness of stressful events in others' lives is the only factor that we found that is common to both social media use and psychological stress." This was true particularly for women ... hence that "cost of caring" thing.
Read the scientific paper here.
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