Social Networking Sites (SNS), like Facebook and Instagram, are a common form of communication (e.g., Yau & Reich, 2017), with upwards of 70% of U.S. adults using at least one SNS site daily (Perrin and Anderson, 2019). The average daily time of use observed in studies is as high as almost three hours (Vanman et al., 2018). The increased SNS use has raised public health concerns (Abroms, 2019), as recent meta-analyses provide evidence for adverse mental health outcomes, specifically depression (Marino et al., 2018; Yoon et al., 2019). Consequently, users report attempting intermittent periods of abstinence to lower their negative affect (Turel 2014; 2016). It remains unclear whether intermittent periods of abstinence (Fernandez, Kuss, and Griffiths, 2020) or moderation of use (Brailovskaia et al., 2020; Hunt et al., 2018; van Wezel et al., 2021) are efficacious approaches. The aim of this study was to compare the effect of various durations of SNS use on depressive symptoms and affect. University students (n=110) were randomized into either a control or experimental group limiting their daily SNS use for seven days. The condition assignments consisted of abstinence (n=25), 30 minutes daily (n=28), 60 minutes daily (n=23), or unrestricted control (n=34). Participants were primarily young adults (M=19.65), white (75.5%), and female (77.3%), with an average daily use of SNS of roughly 3 hrs. (172 minutes). An application was used to track and limit SNS sites of interest: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok. At the end of each of the seven study days, students completed the Clinically Useful Depression Outcome Scale (CUDOS) to capture changes in depressive symptoms over time and completed the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS) to capture changes in affect throughout the day. We hypothesized that individuals assigned to the lowest moderation group (30 minutes) would have the greatest decreases in slopes of depressive symptoms and negative affect and increases in positive affect. There was varying attrition (7-29%) and non-adherence to assignment (6-26%) within our experimental conditions, and these participants were excluded from the study. The sample endorsed minimal depression (M=16.2 [SD=11.60]), scored in the 41st percentile in positive affect and 84th percentile in negative affect, and endorsed some difficulties of problematic addiction to their SNS (M=15.36 [SD=5.39]). Using multilevel modeling, findings suggest no differences in rates of change in depressive symptoms or affect when comparing those in the moderation (30 or 60 min) or abstinence conditions to the control condition. Moreover, experiential avoidance, social networking addiction, and day of the week did not moderate the changes in slopes for our outcomes of interest. Nevertheless, participants within the 30-minute condition who were more active (e.g., posting, messaging, etc.) in their SNS usage had improvements in affect but not depressive symptoms. There was no relationship between passive use (e.g., reading status updates, etc.) and outcomes. Therefore, moderate SNS use, at 30-min a day, may not be a more effective method to reduce depressive symptoms or improve affect than abstinence or use as normal. However, a limitation of this study is that participants were not a highly depressed before the intervention, limiting the generalization of these findings. In all, users should be encouraged to increase their active engagement such as posting and messaging with peers on their SNS sites to improve their positive and negative affect.
Alicia Meuret, Ph.D.
Ofir Turel, Ph.D.
David Rosenfield, Ph.D.
Austin Baldwin, Ph.D.
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Roque, Andres, "A Randomized Controlled Trial of Social Networking Moderation and Abstinence" (2022). Psychology Theses and Dissertations. 36.
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