Will people who spend a lot of time on social media every day feel anxious, irritable, or have mood changes after quitting them? How does this “detox” affect us? To check this, British scientists conducted an experiment. The results surprised them themselves.
Psychologists at the University of Durham in the UK, Michael Wadsley and Niklas Ihssen, decided to conduct the experiment, inspired by previous research that suggested that some aspects of social media (SM) use resemble addictive behaviors. They were curious whether people who spend a lot of time on this type of entertainment every day will experience withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, irritability and mood changes after stopping a potentially addictive substance.
The experiment was conducted on 51 volunteers who described themselves as heavy users of social media (from 30 minutes to nine hours every day). These people were ordered to refrain from using social media for six days. Throughout this time, as well as for the next four days, scientists monitored the participants’ mental well-being and mood. The scientists presented the conclusions from the experiment in the scientific journal “PLOS One”.
A break from social media. How does it affect us?
As it turned out, virtually all respondents reported that they had much fewer problems than they expected after suddenly stopping using social media: they experienced no or very little withdrawal symptoms, which did not negatively affect their well-being. As the researchers expected, they all said they felt less negative emotions after a week. However, surprisingly, the researchers also felt fewer positive emotions. Additionally, they reported feeling less bored during the day and having a lower sense of loneliness.
According to scientists, this may be due to the fact that limiting the use of SM can simultaneously remove experiences that cause negative emotions (e.g. comparing oneself with others, FOMO, i.e. fear of missing out on something important, etc.), but also those that evoke positive experiences, such as social approval.
Wadsley and Ihssen point out that the use of social media does not appear to be addictive for people in general, even in the case of very intensive use. However, they also admit that most participants “relapsed” at least once, meaning that they logged in to at least one social networking site during the experimental week.
Phone use and “withdrawal-like effects”
“Our study indicates that refraining from or limiting SM use for a week is not associated with any significant impact on affective or motivational responses,” the researchers write in PLOS One. “Importantly, contrary to our hypotheses, we found no evidence that any withdrawal-like effects are associated with very heavy social media use. This suggests that, as with the recent consensus on diagnostic guidelines for social media-related disorders, video games in which the use of withdrawal criteria was abandoned – in the case of diagnosing problematic use of social media, the concept of withdrawal may be of little importance,” they note.
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