Study shows young adults feel more socially isolated with more social media use

Kristen Einarson, CONTRIBUTOR

A student logs into Facebook to put in one of the many hours people her age spend on social media. THE PROJECTOR/ Kristen Einarson

Social media may be killing users slowly.

A study released by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine shows that adults aged 19-32 find social media increases their feelings of social isolation. According to the study, social isolation can lead to increased rates of obesity and mortality.

“Perhaps people are not getting these social needs met in their everyday lives,” said Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman, a clinical psychologist and director of Clinic Psychology Manitoba.

The study showed that young adults with higher social media use felt more alone than young adults who don’t use networking sites as much.

According to Abdulrehman, people may not be able to pinpoint why social media makes them feel a certain way.

“People don’t come in and say I’m anxious because or I’m sad or isolated because I’m using too much social media,” said Dr. Abdulrehman.

But it’s hard for users to quit.

When someone receives a like or a positive comment on a post on social media, it’s positive reinforcement, which encourages repetition of the same behaviours, said Abdulrehman.

“When something has an intermittent reinforcement or a reinforcement that isn’t consistent, people don’t know how exactly how many likes they’re going to get or when they’re going to get them. That behaviour is harder to extinguish because people don’t know when it’s coming, and people are more likely to keep checking habitually,” said Abdulrehman.

Others know exactly where their loneliness stems from.

“I try to stay off social media because it makes me feel lonely,” said Nicole Wolfe, 18, a digital media design student at Red River College.

Andrew Hudson, 20, is studying business administration at RRC. He recently deleted some of his social media accounts. He said he still uses Facebook for the Messenger feature, but he doesn’t check his feed.

“It was using a lot of my time. I wasn’t investing in the real world,” said Hudson.

Hudson said hearing about the study wouldn’t make him more likely to use or not use social media.

Abdulrehman said while the results of this study are not surprising, it doesn’t mean social media use should stop completely. The goal should be to have more social interactions outside of social media, or apps that encourage face-to-face social interaction.