Monday, September 14, 2015

Research from the Journal of Social Media in Society - Social Media and Loneliness

On a run, researcher Matthew Pittman thought of a great quote for his article on social media engagement and loneliness. These lyrics from Arcade Fire, as he puts it, are “oddly perfect.”

All the kids have always known
That the emperor wears no clothes
But to bow to down to them anyway
Is better than being alone

-- from "Ready to Start" by Arcade Fire

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Arcade Fire @ Villafranca di Verona by Flickr User Astrid Virili

Pittman's research looked at 432 undergraduate students at two universities in the Pacific Northwest. The main questions were
1. Is affinity for social media inversely related to loneliness?
2. Is there a significant difference in loneliness between those who create social media content and those who consume it?

He used a survey where students self-reported info about their social media attitudes/behaviors and their offline loneliness. He found a significant relationship. As student affinity for Twitter and Instagram increased, self-reported loneliness decreased. And, their loneliness decreased the more content they created and consumed in Instagram and Twitter. The same was not found for Facebook usage, where no significant correlations could be drawn.

Pittman says:
The Arcade Fire lyrics are perfect because of some data at the end of the survey where I asked them, “Is there anything this study did not ask that you want to say?” While this kind of qualitative data is typically not used in quantitative research, the responses can help guide researchers in future studies. In this case, the students expressed surprising self-awareness about their social media use. They seem to know there is a danger in distracting from reality. Some of the answers given include, “I feel there is a pressure to use social media. For example, I think most of the stuff posted on Facebook is useless, but I still feel like I need to check in order to stay ‘up to date,’" and “I think social media presents this distorted view of what normal life is supposed to be and people (including myself) try to match their own lives to that standard, and feel inferior/lonely as a result.”

Other student responses included:
1. I think the current generation is misusing social media and it’s been placed on a pedestal. We spend too much time looking at a screen and not at each other.

2. I think social media has made a generation that does not know how to get to know their true selves.

3. I see the correlation between social media and loneliness, but I also share because I want people to care about me, or rather notice me.

4. Social media does not provide real social interaction or create relationships.

5. Social media does not make people lonely. People make themselves lonely. There are people who have a hard time reaching out to make friends but that is not due to social media. Correlation is not causation.

Read the entire article, Creating, Consuming, and Connecting: Examining the Relationship Between Social Media Engagement and Loneliness, in the latest issue of The Journal of Social Media and Society.

These findings offer practical insight for higher education, especially when thinking of first-year experiences and helping students acclimate to what could be a lonely first few months away from home.  Or even for a professional moving to a new job in a new city? What other ways do you see this research being applied in higher education, business and life? Let us know in the comments below.

Matthew C. Pittman, M.Div., is a Media Studies PhD Student & Graduate Teaching Fellow at University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewcpittman or email him at mpittman@uoregon.edu.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...