Iowa State University Study: Curbing Social Media Benefits Mental Health

Photo shows Young man concentrating on his cell phone

Photo: Christopher Gannon, Iowa State University

(Ames, IA) -- A study finds limiting social media use to a half-hour a day is good for your mental health. Iowa State University researchers say 230-college students who cut back for two weeks, scored lower for anxiety, depression, loneliness, and fear of missing out. Students also reported more positive emotions and a brighter outlook on life. Participants also said they slept better and were more productive.

Students in the study received daily reminders to limit their social media.

“It surprised me to find that participants’ well-being did not only improve in one dimension but in all of them. I was excited to learn that such a simple intervention of sending a daily reminder can motivate people to change their behavior and improve their social media habits.” says Ella Faulhaber, a Ph.D. student in human-computer interaction and lead author of the paper.

The researchers found the psychological benefits from cutting back on social media extended to participants who sometimes exceeded the 30-minute time limit.

“The lesson here is, it's not about being perfect but putting in effort, which makes a difference. I think self-limiting and paying attention are the secret ingredients, more so than the 30-minute benchmark,” Faulhaber states.

Douglas A. Gentile, co-author and distinguished professor of psychology, says their results fit with other research that’s grown out of kinesiology and health fields.

“Knowing how much time we spend on activities each day and making something countable makes it easier for people to change their behaviors,” he says, giving Fitbits and daily steps as an example.

Many of the participants in the ISU study said it was difficult to cut back at first, but after the initial push, one student felt more productive and in tune with life.

"We live in an age of anxiety. Lots of indicators show that anxiety, depression, loneliness are all getting worse, and that can make us feel helpless. But there are things we can do to manage our mental health and well-being,” says Gentile.

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