Many people use social media to create community, but a new study from University of Pittsburgh researchers shows that social media is actually more likely to make people feel lonely.
Researchers asked students at the University of West Virginia to rate social media experiences, like a friend request or comment, on a 100-point scale to determine how negatively or positively these communications were experienced.
People who had negative interactions reported feeling lonelier. But overall, positive experiences didn’t make people feel less lonely.
“It is sort of a bummer,” said lead author Brian Primack. He said the next step is to figure out why this happens.
Primack, who heads Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health, said these results aren’t totally surprising. Previous studies show that impacts of negative experiences are more powerful than positive ones, so it makes sense that social media users are more likely to feel lonely.
These findings have serious implications: researchers have found loneliness to be a risk factor of depression and suicidality. People's drive for connection has an evolutionary basis, as our ancestors depended on social groups for food, shelter and protection.
Despite his findings, Primack cautioned to not write off social media entirely, because different people use it in different ways.
“Maybe you're clicking like on lots of pictures of cute babies and puppies,” he said. “And I'm having all of these screaming, knockdown, drag out fights about politics and religion.”
For this reason, Primack said he avoids certain social media interactions, like Twitter fights.
The study was published last week in the American Journal of Health Promotion.
WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.