Use of social media can increase depression and loneliness, findings of an experiment conducted by psychology experts have shown.
Social media and increased risk for depression and loneliness have long been linked but no causal association has been proven until now.
In a new study, however, psychologist Melissa Hunt, from the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues finally connect the use of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to decreased well-being.
Hunt and colleagues involved 143 participants to take part in an experiment designed to test the psychological effects of allowing people to use social media as they usually did compared to limiting their use of these sites to a maximum of ten minutes per platform per day.
The researchers randomly assigned the participants into one of two groups who either used social media as usual or had their social media usage limited.
The sites involved in the study were Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, the three most popular social media sites among college students.
After three weeks, the researchers surveyed the participants using tools that measured outcomes such as depression, anxiety, loneliness and the fear of missing out.
They found that the group of students who limited their use of social media showed a significant reduction in anxiety and fear of missing out from when the experiment started.
The people who had higher levels of depression at the start of the study in particular showed a decrease in depressive symptoms after limiting the time they spend on social media.
"Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study," Hunt said in a statement published by ScienceDaily.
A closer look at how reducing the use of social media can make a person feels less lonely suggests that the findings make sense.
Hunt cited existing literature that suggests there is much comparison that happens in social media. Looking at other people's lives particularly on Instagram can make a person conclude that other people's lives are better than his or her.
"Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology,
It isn't clear though if the findings apply broadly to other social media platforms since the study only looked at Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.