COLUMBIA, Mo. – Since the invention of the telegram, the adoption of new technologies, such as television, smartphones and social media, has often led to fears of the decline of face-to-face interactions and the potential of decreased happiness. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas have found that social media use has no significant negative effect on social interactions or social well-being.
"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," said Michael Kearney, assistant professor at the MU School of Journalism. "However, our results suggested that social media use doesn't have a strong impact on future social interactions."
Kearney and the research team set up two studies, one long-term and one short-term, to test the theory. 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 also found that passive social media use led to lower levels of well-being if that person had been alone earlier in the day.
"People who use social media alone likely aren't getting their face-to-face social needs met," Kearney said. "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."
The aspect of time may be an important element to consider when it comes to studying the effects of social media, the researchers found. For example, Kearney says that while time spent using social media sites like Facebook doesn't take away from other social interactions, it is likely that using any type of media borrows time that could be used for face-to-face interactions.
"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," Kearney said. "People must ultimately be responsible for maintaining their relationships, whether that's through social media or other means."
"Two tests of social displacement through social media use," was published in Information, Communication and Society. The co-authors of the study are Jeffrey Hall, associate professor at the University of Kansas and Chong Xing, a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas.