Study: Social Media Use and Social Isolation

Social media is seemingly everywhere we look and access to it is easier than ever before. But how much social media use is too much?

Posted: Oct. 20, 2017 6:09 AM
Updated: Oct. 20, 2017 6:09 AM

CLEVELAND – Social media is seemingly everywhere we look and access to it is easier than ever before.

But how much social media use is too much?

A recent study looked at whether heavy social media use could be tied to feelings of isolation.

Cleveland Clinic psychologist Joseph Rock did not take part in the study, but said it showed how heavy social media use can be problematic for folks who already struggle with social anxiety.

“People who are already kind of socially isolated got even more isolated because they used it as a substitute for social contact,” said Dr. Rock. “So if they were uncomfortable being in social situations, they didn’t have to be, and so they were even more isolated.”

The study looked at 1,700 people between the ages of 19 and 32.

Researchers found that those who spent the most time on social media had the highest likelihood of feeling socially isolated.

Even people who were not socially isolated to begin with had the tendency to back off of social contact when they engaged in more social media use.

Dr. Rock said it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that what we see on social media doesn’t tell the whole story – it’s a narrative that people have created and it’s full of edits.

He said it can be an even bigger issue for folks who struggle with social anxiety, because it doesn’t give them the practice they need and can keep them from learning to be around people.

“One of the problems with social media is, it’s actually a misnomer – they really ought to call it ‘isolation’ media – because if you look at the definition of social, it means you choose to be in the company of people, instead of being alone,” said Dr. Rock.

He said one of the best ways to escape the social media rut is to try out reality instead.

“There’s a reason this stuff is called virtual reality – it means it’s not quite reality,” said Dr. Rock. “And I think just getting out there and getting a sense of what’s really going on, and when you talk to an actual human being for a period of time, you’re going to get a more balanced picture of what’s really going on with them.”

Dr. Rock said for those who can look at social media every once in a while it’s no big deal. But if we find ourselves getting enraged by it, or it’s causing us to change our social habits, it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate how much social media really can influence our day-to-day actions.

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