Reducing social media use by 15 minutes per day could improve general and mental health and immune function. The corresponding study was published in the Journal of Technology and Behavioral Science.
Social media usage is linked to a range of negative effects, including depression, anxiety, and stress. Studies also show that high levels of digital technology use is linked to poor health and immune function. Although correlational evidence exists for a negative relationship between social media use and health and wellbeing, whether there is a causative link remains unknown.
In the current study, researchers investigated the mental and physical health effects of reducing social media use by 15 minutes per day among 50 students aged 20-25. At the beginning of the study, the students completed questionnaires concerning their health, immune function, loneliness, sleep, anxiety, and depression. They were then randomly assigned to groups involving no change in smartphone use, reducing smartphone use by 15 minutes per day or substituting 15 minutes of smartphone use with another activity.
After three months, the participants completed the same health-related questionnaires again. While few participants adhered to instructions in the substitute group, the researchers found that those in the ‘reduce’ group experienced significant improvements across multiple measures of health. These included a 15% improvement in immune function, a 50% improvement in sleep quality, and 30% fewer depressive symptoms.
The researcher further noted that those told to reduce smartphone use by 15 minutes ended up doing so by 40 minutes per day, whereas those told not to reduce use increased smartphone use by 10 minutes. Interestingly, those asked to substitute social media use increased their usage by 25 minutes per day.
In a press release, Professor Phil Reed, from Swansea University’s School of Psychology, one of the authors of the study, noted that the findings suggest that public health campaigns should avoid telling people how to use their time, and that giving them facts alone may be more effective.
“It remains to be established whether the relationship between social media use and health factors is a direct one, or whether changes in wellbeing variables, such as depression, or other factors, such as an increase in physical activity, mediate it,” he added.
Sources: Neuroscience News, Journal of Technology and Behavioral Science