The impact of social media on well-being 

The impact of social media on well-being 

Researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) are investigating how the Internet, social media platforms, and video games influence the mental health and psychosocial functioning of young people

We are spending more and more time online, using social media and gaming platforms, accessing news and information, and seeking out vital health information.

Oxford experts are examining the impacts of our online lives, and uncovering how digital technologies can negatively impact, but also benefit, our mental health.

They are helping to shape government policy to protect young people online, and developing tools recommended by the NHS to aid equitable online access to mental health services.

Oxford researchers are looking into how social media and other online behavior impacts our wellbeing. More research is needed, but our experts have made surprising findings on the links between social media, gaming use and wellbeing that are not what some might expect.

Researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) are investigating how the Internet, social media platforms, and video games influence the mental health and psychosocial functioning of young people.

The Programme on Adolescent Well-Being in the Digital Age, led by the OII’s Professor Andrew Przybylski and funded by the Huo Family Foundation, runs until 2025 and aims to investigate the widely held assumptions that the overall mental health of young people is undergoing a period of decline driven by digital technologies. 

A study undertaken by Professor Przybylski, with Cambridge’s Dr. Amy Orben, examined data from over 430,000 adolescents in the UK and the US to investigate how associations between adolescents’ technology use and mental health have changed over the past 30 years.

The study found little evidence for increases in associations between adolescents’ technology engagement and mental health.

As more data accumulates on adolescents’ use of emerging technologies, our knowledge of them and their effects on mental health will become more precise… We need more transparent and credible collaborations between scientists and technology companies to unlock the answers.Professor Andrew Przybylski, Oxford Internet Institute

Over the eight associations studied, only three indicated some change over time. Social media use and television viewing had become less strongly associated with depression; on the other hand, social media’s association with emotional problems had increased. The observed changes over time were, however,  small, and behavioral problems or suicidal ideations were not detected.

In another study conducted with researchers from the University of Vienna and Nesta, researchers from the Programme on Adolescent Well-Being in the Digital Age found that consuming traditional forms of media including books, music, and television has little effect on short-term adult well-being.

The team studied the media consumption habits and well-being levels of 2,159 UK adults between April and May 2020 to challenge the assumption that engaging with traditional types of media improves well-being while using newer types of media, such as social media, worsens well-being.

Our findings show that the overall impact of traditional media on short-term wellbeing is minimal.  It’s really important that we try to shift the debate away from such an elitist view and look at other factors that influence peoples’ general well-being.Dr. Niklas Johannes, formerly Oxford Internet Institute

An international team of scientists, including Professor Przybylski, found that girls and boys might be more vulnerable to the negative effects of social media use at different times during their adolescence.

In girls, social media use between the ages of 11 and 13 years was associated with a decrease in life satisfaction one year later, whereas in boys this occurred between the ages of 14 and 15 years.

The differences suggest that sensitivity to social media use might be linked to developmental changes, possible changes in the structure of the brain, or puberty, which occurs later in boys than in girls, although this requires further research.

To pinpoint which individuals might be influenced by social media, more research is needed that combines objective behavioral data with biological and cognitive measurements of development.Professor Andrew Przybylski, Oxford Internet Institute

Professor Przybylski joined a panel convened by the Family Online Safety Institute to discuss how the global pandemic and the rise of online platforms interact to shape the mental health of young people.

Professor Przybylski speaks with researchers from UC Irvine and MIT, discussing technology effects on young people, the role of the technology industry and online platforms in sharing data with independent researchers, and the future of social data science investigating global mental health.

Researchers at Oxford’s Saïd Business School found that time spent on social media can have a positive effect on psychological well-being.

Professor Andrew Stephen and Dr. Cammy Crolic found the positive effects were only evident when the platforms were used to facilitate genuine social interactions, such as engaging with close friends and family.

The results are the preliminary findings of a multi-year research project that involved nearly 2,000 adult internet users, mainly in the US and UK. The study considered the impact on overall psychological well-being, which is a key factor in determining a person’s general level of happiness, rather than focusing on a narrow component of well-being such as self-esteem.

We found that a truly social use of social media has a detectable, albeit small, positive effect on a person’s psychological wellbeing, whereas merely following influencers, brands or other non-social entities had no effect.’ Professor Andrew Stephen, Saïd Business School 

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