You may have heard that Twitter experienced an outage a few days ago and the resulting furore has led to many people questioning whether our dependence on social media and stress is linked. Our own Martin Butters spoke at length about the disruption the Twitter crash caused to his usual routine.
Of course, we must remember that social media is not just used for frivolously wasting time and procrastination. It is also not simply a tool for catching up with friends or sharing photos. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and their ilk are also core components of thousands of businesses, without which they stand a good chance of simply shrivelling up and dying.
As coincidence would have it Pew Research Centre, a company that specialised in research in the fields of science, technology and the internet, recently carried out a study into just this issue. The study was concerned with whether being more aware of the events in the lives of our friends and family could share a relationship with the levels of stress we experience.
The study explored this with a self-report inventory of the participants’ experiences of stress in their day to day lives and also a survey about their habits related to social media use.
Now, the use of self-reporting methods has in of itself some issues that must be acknowledged. Outright asking people about specific experiences can lead to all sorts of biases running wild in the response format. Far better to have an objective measure that can calculate a psychological state, without it being immediately obvious to the participant that is what it is doing.
However, a scan of the internet has found there to be a dearth of objective stress measures, with self-report tools being quite prevalent. Maybe the subject of further research could be to come up with one?
The same issue arises when asking people about their habits. People tend to downplay their use of things such as the internet, smoking, drinking etc. so it is possible that you may not be getting a true picture of their actual habits.
So, all things considered was a link found between social media use and stress?
There was absolutely no significant relationship found between social media use and male stress. Social media users experienced similar stress levels to those who did not use it.
For females however, social media use was correlated with moderately lower levels of stress. In fact the more they used online media such as sharing pictures, sending and receiving emails, and interacting on Twitted; the lower the levels of stress they reported. Women who used social media on a daily basis reported up to 21% less stress than those who did not use such technology.
So, Why Is This?
It’s simple really when you think about it. People can often see social media as a kind of social support. If you have achieved something good and you post it online, then you can normally expect a flurry of likes and/or positive comments from your friends. Similarly, if you are having a bad day then posting it can lead to another wave of support from concerned acquaintances (even if some people are irritatingly vague about it).
Previous research has shown that feelings of well-being can be associated with the social sharing of life events, whether they are positive or negative. FurtSocialhermore it has been shown that females tend to share their experiences with a greater range of people than males do which may account for the gender differences in findings.
One possibility that does spring to mind however, is that maybe there is no gender difference in the relationship between social media use and stress.
As I mentioned earlier, people have a tendency to understate things when it comes to self-reporting and, seeing as it has been shown that women are often more comfortable that men in sharing these things, it could be that males are more likely to engage in this kind of bias and that there actual levels of stress and social media use are more in line with their female counterparts.
So, in relation to the recent Twitter outage, it’s quite easy to see why people got so stressed. If the Pew data is correct and we really do get a large amount of social support and stress reduction from social media use, then it isn’t much of a leap to consider that stress levels may raise when that proverbial rug is pulled out from under us.
Personally I think that it is rather likely that male levels are more in line with females’, but they find it harder to admit to getting stressed. Research has shown this to be the case and it is definitely worth considering as a possibility when looking at this study.
How do you feel when you cannot log onto your favourite social network? Does it make your blood boil or are you as cool as cucumber? Please let us know in the comments.
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