You may think using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is bringing you closer with your friends, but a new study suggests the opposite may be true.
The research, published Monday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, drew a link between more time spent on social media and frequency of use to an increased risk of social isolation in young adults.
"We are inherently social creatures, but modern life tends to compartmentalize us instead of bringing us together,” lead study author Dr. Brian A. Primack, Ph.D., director of the Center for Research on Media Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said in a news release. “While it may seem that social media presents opportunities to fill that social void, I think this study suggests that it may not be the solution people were hoping for.”
Beginning in 2014, Primack and his team surveyed more than 1,700 Americans ages 19 to 32 on their social media use, and measured their perceived social isolation using the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System, a standard assessment tool.
After controlling for social and demographic variables, Primack’s team found people who used social media for more than two hours per day saw twice the odds of perceived social isolation compared to peers who spent less than half an hour on social media each day. Those who checked their social media sites 58 times or more a week had nearly triple the odds of perceived social isolation compared to those participants who visited the sites fewer than nine times a week.
Study authors queried participants on their use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn — the most popular social media sites at the time.
Although researchers aren’t sure whether participants were lonely prior to using social media, or if social media use actually triggered those negative feelings, they theorized that social media may contribute to perceived social isolation in various ways, including by inspiring jealousy and envy, and discouraging real-life interaction with loved ones.
“I don’t doubt that some people using certain platforms in specific ways may find comfort and social connectedness via social media relationships,” Primack said in the release. “However, the results of this study simply remind us that, on the whole, use of social media tends to be associated with increased social isolation and not decreased social isolation."
The findings support previous research that links excess social media use with poorer mental health.
In its “Stress in America” report, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that being a “constant checker” of social media may increase stress levels.
To limit social media use, the APA recommends occasionally detoxing from your tech, staying present in each moment, shutting off notifications, and keeping your phone out of the driver’s seat, among other tips.