Social Media and Mood

Social Media and Mood.jpgResearch looking at the relationship between the use of social media and mood continues to offer tantalizing hints about this new aspect of human experience. Are the effects positive or negative?

There seems to be no doubt about the impact of television watching on mood. Heavy television watching is associated with depression and impaired cognitive function, even when controlling for other risk factors associated with watching television such as physical activity, obesity, alcohol use, etc..

What is the effect of the more interactive experience of social media? Is it similar to in-person friendship, which is clearly positive in terms of its impact on mood? Or is it more like television and, perhaps video gaming?

A large and well designed study looking at Facebook use and mortality suggested that certain kinds of social media involvement is associated with a broad reduction in mortality from medical and psychiatric causes.

A new study, as reported in Psychiatric News, suggests that social media “surfing” may be a particular risk factor…

These findings come from a national survey of 1,787 young adults that asked about their use of 11 popular social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and LinkedIn.

The analysis showed that people who reported using the most platforms (seven to 11) had more than three times the risk of depression and anxiety (odds ratio of 3.08 and 3.27, respectively) than people who used the least amount (zero to 2 platforms).

These increased odds held true even after adjusting for the total time spent on social media and other factors such as race, gender, relationship status, education, and income.”

Lead author Brian Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health, suggested several reasons why this might be the case…

“One possible mechanism is that people who use many different platforms end up multitasking, such as frequently switching between applications or engaging in social media on multiple devices. Studies have found that multitasking is related to poorer attention, cognition, and mood.

Other potential problems of using multiple platforms include an increased risk of anxiety in trying to keep up with the rules and culture associated with each one and more opportunity to commit a gaffe or faux pas since attention is divided.”

As with the Facebook study, which found that being asked by others to be a Facebook friend was associated with significantly reduced mortality, some of the findings in recent studies may not specific to social media. They may reflect the type of experiences that many people with depression have in their interactions with others.

In a study published last November that surveyed 264 young adults, Samantha Rosenthal, Ph.D., M.P.H., a research associate in the Department of Epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, and her colleagues looked at how negative Facebook experiences influenced depression risk.

“The survey revealed that these negative events are common—more than 80 percent of the participants had at least one negative experience on Facebook, and 60 percent had four or more.

After adjusting for other factors, Rosenthal found that negative Facebook experiences were independent predictors of depression risk. The precipitating event did matter, as bullying or other mean behaviors were associated with about 3.5 times higher risk, while unwanted contact was associated with about 2.5 times higher risk. Frequency of negative events contributed to risk as well, though even one instance of bullying could increase the risk of depression.”

Perhaps the best way of summarizing the research on social media use is that how you approach the experience is more important than whether or not you use it.

Some rules that come from this literature –

  • Don’t surf social media. Scanning through stories and switching from platform to platform (which all of us do sometimes) is more likely to be associated with depression, perhaps because distracted attention is more likely to be drawn to negative stories.
  • Look for positive stories. Social media can offer tales of inspiration or catastrophe. Where you look matters in terms of how you feel about yourself and your world.
  • Don’t engage in dialog with people who are critical, bullying or negative. One nice feature of social media is that it is easy to walk away from that kind of interaction.


L.D. Rosen, K. Whaling, S. Rab, L.M. Carrier, N.A. Cheever, Is Facebook creating “iDisorders”? The link between clinical symptoms of psychiatric disorders and technology use, attitudes and anxiety, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 29, Issue 3, May 2013, Pages 1243-1254, ISSN 0747-5632,

Primack BA, Swanier B, Georgiopoulos AM, Land SR, Fine MJ. Association between media use in adolescence and depression in young adulthood: a longitudinal study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009 Feb;66(2):181-8. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2008.532. PubMed PMID: 19188540; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3004674.

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For More Information

An abstract of “Use of Multiple Social Media Platforms and Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety: A Nationally Representative Study Among U.S. Young Adults” can be accessed here. An abstract of “Frequency and Quality of Social Networking Among Young Adults: Associations With Depressive Symptoms, Rumination, and Corumination” is available here. An abstract of “Negative Experiences on Facebook and Depressive Symptoms Among Young Adults” is located here.