How Social Media Affects Real World Social Interaction

For all the good it does us, social media is far from free of criticism. Of these criticisms perhaps the most common is the belief that social media use negatively affects our social interactions and/or social wellbeing in a significant manner, however new research suggests this may not be the case.

The new research in question was conducted by a team from the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, which aimed to explore what impact if any social media truly has on our face-to-face interactions over the course of two dedicated studies. The team ultimately concluded that despite what popular opinion may indicate, social media use has little bearing in this regard.

“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,” says Michael Kearney, one of three co-authors on the new studies. “However, our results suggested that social media use doesn’t have a strong impact on future social interactions.”

In order to reach this conclusion Kearney and the research team conducted two separate studies, one long-term and one short-term. The first study, which followed the social media use of individuals from 2009 to 2011, found that change in social media use was not associated with changes in direct social contact. In addition, the participants’ feelings of social well-being actually increased.

The second study, which surveyed adults and college students through text-messaging over the course of five days, found that social media use earlier in the day did not have any impact on future social interactions. However, the researchers do warn that passive social media use may lead to lower levels of well-being after spending significant time alone.

“People who use social media alone likely aren’t getting their face-to-face social needs met,” Kearney says. “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.

“People are spending increased amounts of time using the internet and other media that may replace the time they could use for speaking face to face, but that doesn’t mean that they are worse for it. People must ultimately be responsible for maintaining their relationships, whether that’s through social media or other means.”

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