JUN 25, 2022 7:45 PM PDT

New Perspective on the Link Between Social Media and Unhappiness

WRITTEN BY: Alexandria Bass

The paradox that is social media. Social media gives us constant opportunities to connect with other people yet can leave us feeling lonelier and more depressed than ever. New research suggests that social media may not only make us unhappy through feelings of loneliness but also through disappointment in ourselves for how much time we've wasted on it.

Scientific American interviewed Amanda Baughan, a computer science graduate student at the University of Washington, who presented her research on social media and a concept known as dissociation at the 2022 Association for Computing Machinery Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 

Known as the “30-Minute Ick Factor,” after a 30-minute binge of endless scrolling on social media feeds, people often feel disgusted and disappointed in themselves. So then why do they do it? Because of dissociation, perhaps. Dissociation causes people to lose awareness of time and of the self. It can be a good thing but not when it’s induced by unproductive, meaningless tasks that a person later feels guilty about.

In Baughn’s research, she studied the connection between social media use and dissociation in 43 participants. The participants answered questions about their feelings while on social media through a mobile app called Chirp that let them interact with social media content while completing the study’s questionnaires measuring dissociation. Forty-two percent of these participants reported dissociation after social media use.

Baughn also tested potential interventions for reducing dissociation while on social media and, ultimately, time wasted and associated feelings of guilt. The most successful ones were custom lists and reading history labels.

With custom lists, participants categorized content they liked to follow and interacted with only this content, not their main feed. When they got to the end of new content on their feed, they were alerted by a reading history label of what they’d already read so they would be less inclined to keep scrolling. 

“We’ve found that people value being able to…consume the media they enjoy, find the information that’s relevant and then be gently nudged off the platform in a way that fits their time management goals,” Baughn commented.

She suggests companies should design social media in a way that’s psychologically healthier for people to consume, a way that promotes less dissociation and the guilt that comes with it when too much time is wasted.

Sources: Scientific American

About the Author
BA in Psychology
Alexandria (Alex) is a freelance science writer with a passion for educating the public on health issues. Her other professional experience includes working as a speech-language pathologist in health care, a research assistant in a food science laboratory, and an English teaching assistant in Spain. In her spare time, Alex enjoys cycling, lap swimming, jogging, and reading.
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