Researchers from the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour looked at 84,000 people between 10 and 80 years old. Specifically, they followed 17,400 people between 10 and 21 years old.
“Technological innovations have shaped the ways in which we connect with each other. Yet the recent adoption of social media has fundamentally transformed how humans spend their time, portray themselves and communicate,” wrote the study authors.
“The repercussions of such changes have induced widespread concern. Yet there is still considerable uncertainty about how social media use relates to well-being.”
The experts found that for girls between the ages of 11 and 13, and boys between the ages of 14 and 15, the more social media consumed – the more likely a young person was to have a lower life satisfaction rating 12 months later.
Lower social media use was associated with higher life satisfaction. More disturbing is that a decrease in life satisfaction in both sexes and across all ages studied leads to more social media use.
It is indeed a vicious circle, and the why is very complicated, explained Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Cambridge.
“It’s not possible to pinpoint the precise processes that underlie this vulnerability. Adolescence is a time of cognitive, biological and social change, all of which are intertwined, making it difficult to disentangle one factor from another,” said Blakemore.
“For example, it is not yet clear what might be due to developmental changes in hormones or the brain and what might be down to how an individual interacts with their peers.”
The paper does not answer all the questions surrounding social media and its effect on young people. Still, it clarifies that social media is damaging to many of our children and teenagers.
The researchers hope that this study will garner enough attention from social media companies and the government to ensure that independent research is carried out so that we can further understand and mitigate the harm created by this ubiquitous form of media.