Psychological Stress and Social Media Use

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Psychological Stress and Social Media Use


It makes sense to wonder if the use of digital technology creates stress. There is more information flowing into people’s lives now than ever — much of it distressing and challenging. There are more possibilities for interruptions and distractions. It is easier now to track what friends, frenemies, and foes are doing and to monitor raises and falls in status on a near-constant basis. There is more social pressure to disclose personal information. These technologies are said to takeover people’s lives, creating time and social pressures that put people at risk for the negative physical and psychological health effects that can result from stress.

Stress might come from maintaining a large network of Facebook friends, feeling jealous of their well-documented and well-appointed lives, the demands of replying to text messages, the addictive allure of photos of fantastic crafts on Pinterest, having to keep up with status updates on Twitter, and the “fear of missing out” on activities in the lives of friends and family.

We add to this debate with a large, representative study of American adults and explore an alternative explanation for the relationship between technology use and stress. We test the possibility that a specific activity, common to many of these technologies, might be linked to stress. It is possible that technology users — especially those who use social media — are more aware of stressful events in the lives of their friends and family. This increased awareness of stressful events in other people’s lives may contribute to the stress people have in their own lives. This study explores the digital-age realities of a phenomenon that is well documented: Knowledge of undesirable events in other’s lives carries a cost — the cost of caring.

This study explores the relationship between a variety of digital technology uses and psychological stress. We asked people an established measure of stress that is known as the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). The PSS consists of ten questions and measures the degree to which individuals feel that their lives are overloaded, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Participants were asked:

In the last 30 days, how often have you:

  1. Been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly
  2. Felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life
  3. Felt nervous and “stressed”
  4. Felt confident about your ability to handle any personal problems
  5. Felt that things were going your way
  6. Found that you could not cope with all the things that you had to do
  7. Been able to control irritations in your life
  8. Felt that you were on top of things
  9. Been angered because of things that were outside of your control
  10. Felt difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them

Participants responded on a 4-point scale from “frequently” to “never.” The ten items were combined so that a higher score indicates higher psychological stress (the scale ranges from 0-30 with zero representing no stress and 30 representing the highest level)

Read More: PewResearchCenter

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