Social media use 'does not increase stress', study claims

Stress Test

Social media users can relax: a new survey has found that people on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter do not experience more stress than digital refuseniks.

However, social media users are more aware of stressful events experienced by their online friends, which has been described as the “cost of caring”.

That is the conclusion of a survey of 1,800 Americans by the Pew Research Center, which refutes the idea that social media users experience more stress due to the “fear of missing out” - seeing friends posting about exotic holidays, nights out or other events.

The research also found that women who use Twitter, email and share digital pictures on a daily basis score 21% lower on the stress measure used in the study compared with those who did not communicate digitally.

‘Stress can be contagious’

Prof Keith Hampton, a Rutgers University academic and one of the authors of Social Media and the Cost of Caring, said that writing emails, text messages and sharing pictures could give women an “easily accessible coping mechanism that is not experienced or taken advantage of by men”.

The relationship between social media use and stress was complex, he added. “The social aspect of these technologies makes people more aware of stressful events in others’ lives. Learning about and being reminded of undesirable events in other people’s lives makes people feel more stress themselves. This finding about the cost of caring adds to the evidence that stress can be contagious.”

Facebook was the platform that made both men and women more aware of stressful events in the lives of both close friends and more distant acquaintances, according to the study.

A woman with an average number of Facebook friends and who shares pictures online is typically aware of 29% more stressful events in the lives of their closest friends and family than non-users of technology.

Men who make an average number of comments on Facebook posts, send text messages and use LinkedIn are typically aware of 67% more stressful events than non-users.

Lee Rainie, Pew director of internet, science, and technology research, said: “When users find out about really distressing things in their friends’ lives, it can take its toll.”

The study asked participants about the extent to which they felt their lives were stressful using the well-established Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). It was conducted on both landlines and mobile phones in English and Spanish and comprised a nationally representative sample of US adults aged 18 and over.

The research follows a study published in December which found that training older people to use social media improved cognitive capacity, increased a sense of self-competence and could have a beneficial overall impact on mental health and physical well-being.

Powered by article was written by Chris Johnston, for on Thursday 15th January 2015 15.00 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010