JAN 11, 2022 9:00 AM PST

Does Consuming Different Types of Media Affect Mental Wellbeing?

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

We’ve probably all been told that we need to be on our phones less. We’ve probably all seen those challenges to “cleanse” ourselves of social media apps, challenges that involve deleting social media apps from our phones, with the goal of removing “negative” spaces and improving your overall mental health. People often suggest that we go outside, read a book, or anything else to get ourselves away from a screen. We’ll feel better if we do, we always hear, if we could just get away from screen time.

A good deal of research has been done evaluating how social media affects mental health (anxiety, depression, etc.) in particular. However, despite some evidence that there is a connection between social media and mental health, the overall relationship is still not well understood. There is even less evidence that turning to more “traditional” forms of media (like books or T.V.) is a solution; in fact, much media research focuses more on time spent with particular media forms, rather than if a particular medium was used or not. 

A new study published in Scientific Reports suggests that turning to traditional media has a negligible effect on short-term mental health. 

The study examined the frequency and use versus non use of a range of different media forms: books, movies, T.V., social media, video games, etc. Research analyzed an existing set of data produced during lockdowns in early 2020, which was produced by a survey of over 2,000 adults in the United Kingdom. 

Researchers noted a couple of trends, many of which suggested correlation only: for example, people who engaged with music, T.V., movies, and video games felt generally worse than those who did not engage with these mediums. However, researchers emphasize that this trend could just as well be possible that people who feel bad turn to these mediums, rather than the mediums causing these feelings. Another key trend researchers noted was that increasing usage amounts of certain media appeared to have no effect on overall wellbeing.

It should be noted that researchers looked at well-being after only a week, highlighting the short-term nature of their findings. It therefore suggests that more research is needed. 

Sources: Eureka Alert!; Scientific Reports; Cureus

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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