Social media and psychological well being


Over the past 20 years, the psychological well being of adolescents and younger adults in lots of international locations has worsened significantly (Twenge et al. 2019). Knowledge from the US present that the fraction of people aged 18–23 who reported experiencing a significant depressive episode prior to now yr virtually doubled between 2008 and 2018 (NSDUH 2019). Equally, over the identical time interval, suicides grew to become extra prevalent and at the moment are the second main explanation for demise for people 15–24 years outdated (Nationwide Middle for Well being Statistics 2021).

For the reason that elevated prevalence of psychological sickness amongst adolescents and younger adults coincided with the diffusion of social media, researchers, journalists, and policymakers alike have expressed concern that the 2 phenomena is perhaps associated (Twenge and Campbell 2019). Within the autumn of 2021, a sequence of articles within the Wall Road Journal alleging that Meta (beforehand Fb) was conscious that Instagram had a unfavourable impact on teenage ladies’ physique picture introduced the connection between social media and psychological well being to the forefront of public debate (Wells et al. 2021). Quickly after, the US Congress held a committee listening to on the subject.

Regardless of the pressing want for research on whether or not social media is detrimental to psychological well being, causal proof stays scarce.  In a latest paper (Braghieri et al. 2022), we offer essentially the most complete causal proof thus far on the results of social media on psychological well being by leveraging a novel pure experiment: the staggered roll-out of Fb throughout US faculty campuses.  Our empirical technique permits us to estimate the short-to-medium-run results of Fb on a wealthy set of psychological well being outcomes starting from despair, to generalised nervousness dysfunction, to anorexia. General, we discover that the introduction of Fb at a school had a unfavourable impact on pupil psychological well being, particularly so far as despair and nervousness dysfunction are involved.

Our analysis design leverages Fb’s gradual growth throughout US faculties as a pure experiment. Fb was created by Harvard undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004. Initially, entry to the platform was restricted to Harvard college students. Over the next two and a half years, Fb progressively expanded to different faculties within the US and overseas till ultimately, in September 2006, it opened its doorways to everybody on the planet above the age of 13. The staggered nature of Fb’s roll-out permits us to check, in a difference-in-differences framework, adjustments in pupil psychological well being in faculties that simply obtained Fb entry to adjustments in pupil psychological well being in faculties nonetheless with out Fb entry.

Determine 1 presents the causal difference-in-differences estimates of the influence of Fb on psychological well being outcomes. The outcomes present that the introduction of Fb at a school had a unfavourable influence on pupil psychological well being. The consequences we discover are strongest for despair and nervousness dysfunction. School-wide entry to Fb elevated the variety of college students who reported experiencing extreme despair or nervousness dysfunction within the final yr by 7% and 20%, respectively. In distinction to despair and nervousness dysfunction, we don’t discover important results on self-reports of anorexia and bulimia. 

Determine 1 Results of the introduction of Fb on pupil psychological well being

In an effort to examine whether or not the results of Fb are concentrated amongst people who’re significantly weak to psychological sickness or whether or not they have an effect on all college students in the same approach, we created a measure of predicted susceptibility to psychological sickness and studied how the results of the introduction of Fb fluctuate alongside that measure. As proven in Determine 2, Fb impacts the psychological well being of all college students, however the results are particularly robust amongst college students predicted to be most inclined to psychological sickness. Moreover, amongst these college students, the introduction of Fb led to statistically important will increase within the take-up of psychotherapy and antidepressants.

Determine 2 Heterogeneous results by predicted susceptibility to psychological sickness

Does the impact of Fb on psychological well being have unfavourable downstream repercussions on tutorial efficiency? In accordance with the scholars’ experiences, the reply is affirmative. As proven in Determine 3, college students had been extra more likely to report that psychological well being points negatively affected their tutorial efficiency after Fb was launched at their faculty. In keeping with our proof suggesting that despair and anxiety-related problems are the situations most severely affected by the introduction of Fb, we discover the biggest level estimate on a query asking about despair, nervousness, and seasonal have an effect on dysfunction. The variety of college students who reported that these situations impaired their tutorial efficiency elevated by three proportion factors over a baseline of 13% on account of the introduction of Fb.

Determine 3 Downstream results on tutorial efficiency

What’s the mechanism behind Fb’s unfavourable impact on psychological well being? General, our proof is most in step with the concept that Fb would possibly encourage social comparisons, which, if unfavourable, is perhaps detrimental to customers’ vanity and psychological well being. 

We discover two items of proof suggesting that the results of Fb on psychological well being operated by unfavourable social comparability. First, we give attention to college students who usually tend to be affected by unfavourable social comparisons and examine whether or not they exhibit stronger results. Particularly, we contemplate: (1) college students who dwell off-campus and are due to this fact much less more likely to take part in on-campus social life; (2) college students who’ve weaker offline social networks as measured by not belonging to a fraternity or sorority; (3) college students who’ve decrease socioeconomic standing as measured by carrying bank card debt or working part-time alongside learning; and (4) college students who’re chubby. We combination these questions into an index of social comparability the place respondents are thought of to be at increased threat of unfavourable social comparisons if they’ve an above-median variety of the traits described above (e.g. they dwell off-campus, are chubby, and have bank card debt). Determine 4 exhibits that Fb entry had a extra unfavourable impact on college students extra more likely to undergo from unfavourable social comparisons. All the purpose estimates are optimistic and the estimates for off-campus residing, bank card debt, and the index are statistically important.

Determine 4 Heterogeneous results as proof of unfavourable social comparisons

Second, we take a look at immediately whether or not Fb affected perceptions of others’ social lives by estimating the influence of the roll-out of Fb on college students’ perceptions of their friends’ consuming behaviours.  Determine 5 exhibits that the introduction of Fb elevated the perceived prevalence of alcohol consumption amongst faculty college students. Based mostly on the questions asking college students about their very own alcohol consumption, the determine additionally exhibits that the rise in perceived alcohol consumption will not be paralleled by a rise in precise consumption.

Determine 5 Results on alcohol use and perceptions

One rationalization for such discrepancy between perceptions and actuality is that college students may need a tough time decoding the content material they observe on social media. Specifically, they could neglect that what they see on social media is a curated quite than consultant model of their friends’ lives. Certainly, we discover even stronger results on perceptions amongst college students residing off-campus who must rely extra closely on social media to assemble details about their friends’ behaviours. If college students don’t absolutely internalise the truth that the content material they observe on social media is extremely curated quite than consultant, they could understand many comparisons as unfavourable. Actually, inflated self-portrayals on social media, coupled with a level of naivete in decoding data on social media, would possibly lead two college students evaluating themselves to one another to each understand the comparability as unfavourable.

We emphasise that the evaluation in our most up-to-date paper doesn’t intention to estimate the general welfare results of social media; quite, it goals to make clear a vital element of such welfare calculation, specifically psychological well being. Clearly, social media may need optimistic results on different outcomes affecting welfare. Certainly, the truth that people preserve utilizing social media regardless of the unfavourable results on subjective well-being and psychological well being means that social media platforms may need advantages that compensate for his or her unfavourable results. Ideally, future iterations of those platforms will be capable of protect the advantages whereas mitigating the psychological well being prices. 

General, the outcomes from our paper assist the speculation that social media is perhaps partly chargeable for the latest deterioration in psychological well being amongst younger adults. It’s as much as social media platforms, regulators, and future analysis to find out whether or not and the way these results may be alleviated.


Allcott, H, L Braghieri, S Eichmeyer, and M Gentzkow (2020), “The welfare results of social media”, American Financial Assessment 110(3): 629–676.

Allcott, H, M Gentzkow, and L Track (2021), “Digital dependancy”, NBER Working Paper.

Armona, L (2019), “On-line Social Community Results in Labor Markets: Proof From Fb’s Entry into School Campuses”, accessible at SSRN 3381938.

Braghieri, L, R Levy, and A Makarin (2022), “Social media and psychological well being”, Working paper.

Bursztyn, L, G Egorov, R Enikolopov, and M Petrova (2019), “Social media and xenophobia: proof from Russia”, Working paper.

Enikolopov, R, A Makarin, and M Petrova (2020), “Social media and protest participation: Proof from Russia”, Econometrica 88(4): 1479–1514.

Enikolopov, R, M Petrova, and Ok Sonin (2018), “Social media and corruption”, American Financial Journal: Utilized Economics 10(1): 150–74.

Fergusson, L and C Molina (2020), “Fb causes protests”, Working paper.

Fujiwara, T, Ok Müller, and C Schwarz (2021), “The impact of social media on elections: Proof from the US”, NBER Working Paper 28849.

Levy, R (2021), “Social media, information consumption, and polarization: Proof from a subject experiment”, American Financial Assessment 111(3): 831–70.

Mosquera, R, M Odunowo, T McNamara, X Guo, and R Petrie (2020), “The financial results of Fb”, Experimental Economics 23(2): 575–602.

Mueller, Ok and C Schwarz (2020), “From hashtag to hate crime: Twitter and anti-minority sentiment”, accessible at SSRN 3149103.

Nationwide Middle for Well being Statistics (2021), “Well being, United States, 2019: Desk 007”.

NSDUH (2019), 2002–2019 Nationwide Survey on Drug Use and Well being Closing Analytic File (Codebook).

Twenge, J M and W Ok Campbell (2019), “Media use is linked to decrease psychological wellbeing: proof from three datasets”, Psychiatric Quarterly 90(2): 311–331.

Twenge, J M, A B Cooper, T E Joiner, M E Duffy, and S G Binau (2019), “Age, interval, and cohort tendencies in temper dysfunction indicators and suicide-related outcomes in a nationally consultant dataset, 2005–2017”, Journal of Irregular Psychology 128(3): 185.

We Are Social (2021), Digital 2021 April International Statshot Report.

Wells, G, J Horwitz, and D Seetharaman (2021), “Fb is aware of Instagram is poisonous for teen ladies, firm paperwork present”, Wall Road Journal, 14 September.

Zhuravskaya, E, M Petrova, and R Enikolopov (2020), “Political results of the web and social media”, Annual Assessment of Economics 12: 415–438.


1 A number of research incentivise randomly chosen individuals to scale back their social media use and therefore do estimate causal results, however they don’t focus totally on psychological well being (Allcott et al. 2020, 2021, Mosquera et al. 2020).

2 The paper pertains to an rising literature exploiting the growth of social media platforms to review the results of social media on quite a lot of outcomes. The empirical technique adopted on this paper is intently associated to the one in Armona (2019), who leverages the staggered introduction of Fb throughout US faculties to review labour market outcomes greater than a decade later. Enikolopov et al. (2020) and Fergusson and Molina (2020) exploit the growth of the social media platform VK in Russia and of Fb worldwide, respectively, to point out that social media use will increase protest participation. Bursztyn et al. (2019) and Mueller and Schwarz (2020) exploit the growth of VK and Twitter, respectively, and discover that social media use will increase the prevalence of hate crimes. Extra analysis on social media and political outcomes consists of Enikolopov et al. (2018), Fujiwara et al. (2021), and Levy (2021). For an in depth overview, see Zhuravskaya et al. (2020). 

3 On the time, content material associated to alcohol featured prominently on Fb.



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