Reducing social media usage by as little as 15 minutes per day can increase health and well-being, claims a new study published in the Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science. The findings indicate that a 15-minute reduction in social media usage has positive consequences for one’s social life, vitality, and health.
Research has shown that excessive social media use can lead to a range of negative outcomes, including increased feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Social media use has also been linked to poor sleep quality, decreased physical activity, and decreased face-to-face social interaction. These negative outcomes are particularly concerning given that young adults are among the heaviest social media users, with many spending several hours daily 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 reducing social media use can improve mental health outcomes. However, small sample sizes and reliance on self-reported measures of social media use and mental health outcomes have 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 young adults’ health and well-being.
The research team recruited 50 participants; all were undergraduate students from six different universities in the UK. They were between 18 and 30, with a mean 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 to have a method of recording 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. The “No Change” group initially had 23 participants, which was reduced to 16 due to attrition. Initially, the “Reduce” group had 27 participants, but this was reduced to 17. The “Reduce + Activity” group also had 17 participants. The “Reduce + Activity” group was to decrease social media usage by 15 minutes per day and replace it with another fun activity like reading or working out. The study was conducted over three months.
Participants also completed assessments measuring their social media usage, loneliness, health, sleep quality, anxiety, and depression.
The results showed that the “Reduce” group significantly reduced their social media usage 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 usage or addiction.
Participants in the “Reduce” group reported significant improvements in several domains 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 bodily pain, mental health, or emotional role functioning.
In addition, 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 may help to break the cycle of addiction by reducing the salience of social media in participants’ lives. By reducing the time spent on social media, participants may be less likely to experience mood modifications, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse associated with addiction.
The study was limited by its small sample size and the wide range of unmeasured variables that may have affected the outcome.
The findings from the study replicated those of previous similar studies, suggesting that limiting screen time may indeed be beneficial to health and well-being. The researchers emphasize the potential implications of these findings for public health and policy. They suggest that public health campaigns and interventions aimed at reducing social media use could effectively improve mental health outcomes, particularly among young adults at higher risk of negative effects from social media use.
“These data demonstrate that, when people reduce their social media use, their lives can improve in many ways—including benefits for their physical health and psychological well-being,” said study author Phil Reed, a psychology professor at Swansea University.
“It remains to be established whether the relationship between social media use and health factors is a direct one, or whether changes in well-being variables, such as depression, or other factors, such as an increase in physical activity, mediate it.”
“That the group asked to reduce their usage and do something different did not show these benefits suggests that campaigns to make people healthier could avoid telling people how to use their time,” Reed continued. “They can resent it. Instead, give them the facts, and let them deal with how they make the reduction, rather than telling them to do something more useful—it may not be effective.”
The study, “Reduction in Social Media Usage Produces Improvements in Physical Health and Well-being: An RCT,” was authored by Phil Reed, Tegan Fowkes, and Mariam Khela.