Social media is infectious

Social media users don't experience more stress because of the 'fear of missing out', a survey has found. (Carlo Allegri, Reuters)

Social media users don't experience more stress because of the 'fear of missing out', a survey has found. (Carlo Allegri, Reuters)

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

But social media users are more aware of the 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 because of 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.

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

Complex relationship
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 men and women more aware of stressful events in the lives of both close friends and more distant acquaintances, according to the study.

Women with an average number of Facebook friends who share pictures online are typically aware of 29% more stressful events in the lives of their closest friends and family than nonusers 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 nonusers.

Distress takes its toll
Lee Rainie, the 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.

It was conducted on landlines and cellphones in English and Spanish and comprised a nationally representative sample of American adults aged 18 and over.

The research follows a study published in December that 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 wellbeing. – © The Guardian News & Media 2015

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