APR 29, 2021 11:30 AM PDT

Frequent Social Media Use May Not be a Sign of Addiction, Study Finds

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Social media has been a transformative technology, changing many things about our life: the fabric of social movements, how we consume information, and the ways we form connections with others. 

However, according to Dr. David Robertson, a co-author of a recent study on social media behaviors published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, “much of the focus has been on the negative mental health outcomes which are associated with excessive use, such as higher levels of depression and anxiety.” Indeed, some research exploring the connections between social media use and mental health suggests, though not conclusively, a potential negative association. 

Anecdotally, we are all probably familiar with the ways society as a whole laments how obsessed people are with their smart devices and social networking apps, some even venturing to use the word addiction.

According to the study conducted by Dr. Robertson and colleagues at the University of Strathclyde, there is far from conclusive evidence that excessive social media use would qualify as addiction.

"The evidence to support such negative associations is mixed but there is also a growing debate as to whether excessive levels of social media use should become a clinically defined addictive behaviour.”

As part of their study, researchers tested 100 individuals for “attentional bias,” which refers to an individual’s behavior of filtering external stimuli by focusing on some stimuli and ignoring others. Attentional bias is a frequent feature of people with clinical addiction. 

Researchers asked participants to locate social media apps on a smartphone screen. The goal was to see if participants who claimed high levels of social media usage were able to locate social media apps quickly and accurately, presumably because they filtered out all other apps due to attentional bias. 

The results, however, were mixed. Overall findings showed that participants who claimed frequent social media use were not more drawn to social media apps in a significant way compared to participants reporting low social media usage, suggesting that attentional bias was not found in study participants.

"Much more research is required into the effects of social media use, both positive and negative before definitive conclusions can be reached about the psychological effects of engagement with these platforms. Our research indicates that frequent social media use may not, at present, necessarily fit into traditional addiction frameworks," said Dr. Robertson. 

Source: Science Daily

About the Author
  • Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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