Reducing social media use by as little as 15 minutes a day can boost health and well-being, says a new study published in Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science. The results show that reducing the use of social media by 15 minutes has positive consequences for a person’s social life, vitality and health.
Research has shown that excessive use of social media can lead to a range of negative outcomes, including increased feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression. Social media use is also associated with poor sleep quality, reduced physical activity, and reduced face-to-face social interaction. These negative results are of particular concern since young adults are among the heaviest users of social media, with many spending several hours a day on social media platforms.
Despite the growing concern about the negative effects of social media use, there is limited research on the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing social media use. Previous studies have suggested that reducing social media use can improve mental health outcomes. However, small sample sizes and reliance on self-report measures of social media use and mental health outcomes limited these studies.
To address this gap in the literature, the authors of the new study aimed to investigate the effects of reducing social media screen time on the health and well-being of young people.
The research team recruited 50 participants; they were all undergraduate students from six different UK universities. They were between 18 and 30, with an average age of 23.48. To be eligible for the study, participants needed a smartphone with a social networking site (SNS) application such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. They also needed a way to record screen time, either through the phone’s settings or the “YourHour” application.
Participants were allocated into one of three groups using a random number generator. Initially there were 23 participants in the “No Change” group, which was reduced to 16 due to racism. Initially, there were 27 participants in the “Reduce” group, but this was reduced to 17. There were 17 participants in the “Reduce + Activity” group. The “Reduce + Activity” group aimed to reduce social media use by 15 minutes a day and replace it with another fun activity such as reading or working out. The study was conducted over three months.
Participants also completed assessments measuring their social media use, loneliness, health, sleep quality, anxiety and depression.
The results showed that the “Reduce” group significantly reduced their social media use by 37 minutes per day, and this group also reported a significant reduction in social media addiction. On the other hand, the “No Change” and “Reduce + Activity” groups did not show significant changes in social media use or addiction.
Participants in the “Reduce” group reported significant improvements in several areas of health-related quality of life compared to the “No Change” group. Specifically, participants in the “Reduce” group reported significant improvements in vitality, physical functioning, general health perception, and social role functioning. However, there were no significant differences between groups in physical pain, mental health, or emotional role functioning.
Additionally, participants in the “Reduce” group reported significant reductions in social media addiction scores compared to the “No Change” group. The research team hypothesized that reducing social media screen time could help break the cycle of addiction by reducing the prominence of social media in the participants’ lives. By reducing the amount of time spent on social media, participants are less likely to experience mood modifications, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse associated with addiction.
The study was limited by the small sample size and the wide range of unmeasured variables that could affect the outcome.
The study’s findings mirrored those from previous similar studies, suggesting that limiting screen time may be beneficial for health and well-being. The researchers highlight the implications these findings may have for public health and policy. They suggest that public health campaigns and interventions aimed at reducing social media use may effectively improve mental health outcomes, particularly among young adults who are at higher risk of negative effects from social media use.
“These data show that when people reduce their social media use, their lives can improve in many ways – including benefits to their physical health and psychological well-being,” said study author Phil Reed, professor of psychology at Swansea University.
“It remains to be seen whether the relationship between social media use and health factors is direct, or whether it is mediated by changes in well-being variables, such as depression, or other factors, such as increased physical activity.”
“As the group asked to reduce their use and do something different these benefits did not show that campaigns to make people healthier could avoid telling people how to use their time,” continued Reed. “They can resent it. Instead, give them the facts, and let them deal with how they reduce, rather than telling them to do something more useful – it might not be effective.”
The study, “Reducing Social Media Use Leads to Improvements in Physical Health and Well-Being: RCT,” wrote Phil Reed, Tegan Fowkes, and Mariam Khela.