Influences of Social Media Use on Adolescent Psychosocial Well-Being: ‘OMG’ or ‘NBD’?

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Influences of Social Media Use on Adolescent Psychosocial Well-Being: ‘OMG’ or ‘NBD’?

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Title: Influences of Social Media Use on Adolescent Psychosocial Well-Being: ‘OMG’ or ‘NBD’?
Author: Weinstein, Emily
Citation: Weinstein, Emily. 2017. Influences of Social Media Use on Adolescent Psychosocial Well-Being: ‘OMG’ or ‘NBD’?. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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Abstract: Daily social media use is routine for most contemporary adolescents. However, as social technology use rises, we are still largely unclear about the nature of adolescents’ multifaceted experiences and the mechanisms that may disrupt well-being. In two studies, I use qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the relationship between adolescents’ social media use and their psychosocial well-being. I conducted a survey and social browsing experiment (n=588), followed by semi-structured interviews with a purposeful sub-sample of youth (n=28).

In Study 1, I present an architecture of emotional life infused with social technologies. Adolescents’ survey self-reports portray social media use as a predominantly positive experience. Exploratory principal component analysis further indicates that positive and negative emotions form orthogonal response components. In interview narratives, youth describe affect influences across four functional dimensions: self-expression is an opportunity for both feeling validated and feeling judged; exploration facilitates inspiration but also distress; relational interactions contribute to closeness and to disconnection; and browsing leads to entertainment and boredom, as well as to admiration and envy. Together, these analyses suggest that the relationship between social technology usage and well-being – whether enhanced or degraded – is not confined to an ‘either/or’ framework, but that the emotional see-saw of social media use is weighted by both positive and negative influences.

In Study 2, I use an experiment to assess the merit of a pervasive yet seemingly untested theory about browsing: that the “highlight reel” nature of social media is itself a cause of disruptions in well-being. Positive-only portrayals of others’ lives hypothetically disrupt well-being because they evoke negative social comparisons and contribute distorted perceptions of others’ happiness. I randomly assigned teens to a highlight reel browsing experience or to one of two interventions designed to reduce distorted impressions. Browsing conditions do not cause differences in comparison or post-browsing emotions. However, regardless of condition, negative comparisons predict immediate declines in affective well-being. The interventions moderate the relationship between social comparison and affect, thereby reducing the toll of negative comparison. I discuss implications of adolescents’ differential susceptibility to browsing highlight reels and to light-touch interventions.
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