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Is social media bad for mental health?

Spending time on social media has been blamed for heightening anxiety, causing insecurities, and loneliness.

Recent studies have found that passively following other people’s news prompts a range of negative emotions, including envy, and have identified a specific feeling called ‘FoMO’ – fear of missing out.

So is using social media mainly good for our mood, or bad?

To find out, we set up a small-scale experiment. Ten volunteers were asked to scroll through 100 posts on their own social media news feed and respond to the emotion triggered by each item (excluding adverts). The options they were asked to choose from were positive, negative or neutral.

All our participants experienced more positive or neutral responses than negative. These results are consistent with larger scientific studies.

We spoke to Prof. Andrew Przybylski from The University of Oxford. His recent work suggests that there is a tipping point with time spent online. Using smartphones for up to 2 hours a day on weekdays, or 4 hours at weekends, has a generally positive effect on mental wellbeing, but beyond that it leads to a decline in mood.

A similar trend was noted with our results. After 20 minutes of scrolling through their news feeds, our participants were progressively less likely to experience positive reactions.

Some studies have shown that when we share information about ourselves, parts of the reward centres in our brain are activated and other studies have shown that when people see their posts with different amounts of 'likes' their brains responded differently. Many studies have shown that social media can also help reduce loneliness, especially in older people by allowing them to keep in touch.

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