Researchers behind a new study on the impact of social media, suggest that young people who spend a lot of time on social media appear to be more isolated. The study, by a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, found that the heaviest users of social media had about twice the odds of feeling socially isolated compared to their less ‘web-connected’ friends.
In what could be the first analysis of social media use and so-called social isolation in a large group of people, the study included nearly 1,800 people aged 19 to 32. Researchers asked questions about how isolated the participants felt and how often they used Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Reddit.
The investigators found that those who used the services more often — either in terms of the number of times they used them or in total amount of time spent on them — were more likely to report feeling isolated from other people.
“Compared with those in the lowest quarter for frequently checking social media, people in the top quarter were found to be about three times as likely to have increased social isolation. Those who checked social media sites the least, visited such sites less than nine times a week. Those who checked the most visited social media sites 58 or more times a week,” the study authors said.
The findings also showed that the average time spent on social media was 61 minutes a day. People who spent more than 121 minutes a day on social media had about twice the odds of feeling isolated than those spending less than 30 minutes a day on these sites.
However, the research team was quick to point out that their study did not prove a ‘cause-and-effect’ relationship, and that it was difficult to assign which came first — the social media use or the feelings of isolation.
It could be that people who feel more socially isolated use a lot of social media to try to increase their social circles, or a case of people resorting to social media to compensate for the sense of isolation in the real world.
The findings suggest that people who feel isolated may generally be unable to find a connection through social media, and the answer could lie in going offline and nurturing true in-person social relationships.