PHILADELPHIA — April 26, 2018 — A new study from Temple University's Klein College of Media and Communication confirms that while social media use has a negative effect on emotional and mental well-being overall, those effects are dependent on age and the number of platforms individuals regularly use. Adults younger than 29 reported better mental well-being, the more social channels they engaged while adults older than 30 reported less well-being as the number of platforms they used increased.
The study, conducted by Professors Bruce Hardy and Jessica Castonguay, uses data from the 2016 General Social Survey and is featured in the latest issue of Computers in Human Behavior. "The moderating role of age in the relationship between social media use and mental well-being: An analysis of the 2016 General Social Survey" is also available online.
Professor Castonguay, of the college's Department of Advertising and Public Relations, said the researchers expect their findings might lead to more useful discussions about social media in younger populations.
"This topic will continue to be looked at," she explained, discussing the decrease in the sense of panic among the younger population. "But [this information] is kind of a promising. If you're in a generation where social media use is the norm, you can use it to improve, rather than harm, mental health."
The researchers theorized that the difference in well-being outcomes among separate generations might be related to the influence of social comparison.
Professor Hardy, who is part of the college's Department of Communication and Social Influence, noted that Millennials (people born in between 1981 and 1996) and younger generations grew up with more social media familiarity and thus may react more positively to its influence than those who have been forced to adapt as they've aged. In fact, the study finds, younger people who don't take part in social media experience more stress than their older counterparts. Hardy accounts this to social media providing "social capital" for young people and being much more integral to their lives.
Those in older generations, he believes, are reconnecting with people from their past and seeing how much people have changed causes some of the stress.
"When you're younger, you're growing up with people on social media," said Hardy. "You, for instance, don't notice the aging face of a spouse but when you look at people you haven't seen in years, you have a different perspective."