Anti-social media? Users not having fewer face-to-face interactions, study shows

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Feel like Facebook or Snapchat is causing people to spend less time together in person? You may be wrong. A surprising recent study involving short and long-term experiments found that frequent social media use actually had no significant negative effect on face-to-face time and interaction.

Researchers from the University of Missouri studied surveys completed by nearly 2,800 people in their early- to mid-thirties between 2009 and 2011. The surveys examined social media usage and direct social interaction with others and found that change in social media use had no effect one way or the other on face-to-face social interaction. In fact, the authors found that social media use was positively connected to one’s well-being.

In a second leg of the study, the researchers recruited 62 adults and 54 college students, sending them text message surveys at five random times over the course of five days. Participants were polled on their social media use along with their various interactions with people throughout the day, whether online or in person. The researchers found that social media use by participants earlier in the day had no effect on social interaction later in the day.

“The current assumption is that when people spend more time on apps like Facebook and Snapchat, the quality of their in-person social interactions decreases,” said researcher Michael Kearney, an assistant professor at the Missouri University School of Journalism, in a release. “However, our results suggested that social media use doesn’t have a strong impact on future social interactions.”

Kearney’s team found that individuals who had passively used social media showed lower levels of well-being if individuals were alone earlier in the day.

“People who use social media alone likely aren’t getting their face-to-face social needs met,” Kearney explained. “So if they’re not having their social needs met in their life outside of social media, it makes sense that looking at social media might make them feel even lonelier.”

The study was published Feb. 1, 2018 in the journal Information, Communication and Society.

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