By Guest Blogger Marcela De Vivo, from Los Angeles
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Social Media Psychology
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
With various social media outlets constantly vying for our attention and requiring increasingly more time to maintain, our digital lives are taking over our real ones. Recent studies have shown that we now spend an average of 6.9 hours each month using social networks—double the amount of time since 2006. With smartphones, tablets and increasingly more apps and platforms through which to share your life digitally, it’s undeniable: social media is here to stay.
The boom of social media is endless and it has brought about many benefits to our everyday life, which include:
- Finding like-minded people
- Reconnecting with old friends
- Sharing ideas and information quickly
Despite the fact that these benefits seem positive, they have also increased our dependence on social media as the primary form of interaction, possibly leading to some psychological issues. In fact, preliminary research has shown some disturbing mental health problems that arise from people who choose to connect mainly in the online world and fail to balance time spent on social sites with face-to-face interaction.
Communication can often become misrepresented or misconstrued as tone and facial expressions, cues that help the communicator convey the message, are often missing in online interactions. These unintended insults, miscommunications and slights can lead to poorer quality relationships and stress from the unintentional consequences of posting a comment, picture, etc. online.
Below are some of the major problems that come from prolonged exposure to social media and not enough real time interaction.
Relationships, whether online or in person, can be difficult to manage; however, virtual relationships can often seem easier to maintain compared to relationships offline. A glib post or funny picture can generate masses of replies; all you have to do to reciprocate is to simply click a “like” button or “retweet” the message and your social obligation has been fulfilled. The time spent cultivating these superficial relationships takes so little effort, that it becomes increasingly easier to amass a large group of online friends. In fact, it has become so simple that some people will completely forgo making the effort of meeting people outside of the online world and immerse themselves in their virtual relationships.
The practice of focusing solely on virtual relationships pushes the limits on the depth of the connection. While this does not necessarily mean that validation through “likes” does not strengthen bonds between people, it hardly replaces an in-person conversation about a shared interest. The elements that have been previously relied on to add depth to a story or conversation, such as facial expressions, physical contact, gestures, etc., are now replaced with a 140-character limit that fails to convey the depths to the interaction.
In addition, without these cues, it is more difficult to discern the intentions or emotions of others when communicating, meaning that you are more susceptible to be misled, intentionally or otherwise. Communicating online is a completely different ability from speaking with a person in the physical world—a skill that, without use, can become rusty.
This is not to say that online relationships are all false or not worth instigating. Social networks were created to bring people with like-minded interests together, especially people who would not have, due to geographic or other constraints; however, the problem arises when online relationships supplant real life relationships.
Social and Self Esteem Issues
People are naturally competitive. Social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, allow us to see how others are doing—how they look, what activities they’ve participated in, where they have traveled—and naturally, we compare them to our own lives. While healthy competition is necessary for growth and development, some social media users forget that these online postings are merely snippets of a life being lived. Rarely is someone going to post about doing the laundry—and would likely be de-followed for posting something so mundane.
The competition created from a reliance on social networking is three fold:
Firstly, relying on the group mentality to determine which events in your life are or are not considered to be newsworthy can lead to self-censorship, insecurity and second-guessing oneself.
Secondly, constant comparison can create decreased feelings of self-worth and personal success. For example, studies have found that daily use of Facebook can make some people more prone to depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.
And thirdly, an overuse of social media outlets can lead to an increase in narcissistic and antisocial behavior in teenagers and young adults.
Image courtesy of Life Mental Health / Flickr.com
A recent University of Chicago study found that social media outlets can be more addictive than known addictive substances such as cigarettes and alcohol. “Likes,” “retweets,” “repins,” and so on, cause a chemical release of endorphins in the brain, triggering a positive reinforcement between that activity and feeling good.
It is easy to see why addicts gravitate towards social media.The need of an addict is to calm any anxiety, perpetuating a particular behavior helps create a sense of control over their environment, or serve as a means of escaping the less than pleasant reality. Social media websites provide constant distraction, with never-ceasing updates in which a person can easily lose himself or herself. The constant reward and validation system only strengthen the neural pathways between social media activity and positive feelings.
Despite these potentially harmful mental health effects, social media is not the enemy. Used wisely, and in moderation, it can be an excellent tool to enhance your life and social networks. The key is balance. Contrary to spending all your time interacting online through social media with your “friends,” set up time to meet with them face-to-face and discuss current events in your lives. Begin to integrate real life socializing with online interactions, ensuring that you will be able to avoid the pitfalls of social media.
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Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer from Los Angeles. Her background is in online marketing but she writes on a variety of topics, from technology and medicine to travel, music, gaming, and real estate. Social networking is one of her strong points so the emerging social media psychology field is something she finds fascinating.
For samples of her writing, visit her website http://marcela.co
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