Pitt Study: Negative Social Media Experiments More Powerful Than Positive

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PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) – A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh suggests negative experiences are more powerful than positive ones.

Dr. Brian Primack is the dean of University of Pittsburgh’s Honors College and its Center for Research on Media and the lead author of the study.

Primack and his team surveyed 1,179 full-time students ages 18 to 30 at the University of West Virginia about their social media use and experiences. The participants also completed a questionnaire to assess their depressive symptoms.

“There have been a lot of studies that have linked overall social media use to depression and anxiety,” Primack told the KDKA Radio Afternoon News. “But the fact is that all social media use is not the same.”

“Sometimes you might spend two hours on social media and you’re just clicking likes on pictures of puppies and cute babies,” Primack explained. “But another person might be spending two hours in heated arguments about very, very hot button topics.”

Primack wanted to focus this study’s research on the different impacts of different kinds of social media experiences.

The findings, reported in the journal Depression and Anxiety Thursday, were somewhat surprising to some researchers.

“We were not surprised with our finding that people who had more negative experiences were more likely to be depressed,” Primack said that aligned with his team’s expectations.

“But what was interesting was that there really wasn’t any relationship or a very, very weak relationship at all between having positive experiences and having less depression,” Primack said. “It seemed like somehow the negative experiences were more powerful.”

Each 10 percent increase in positive experiences on social media was associated with a 4 percent decrease in odds of depressive symptoms, results researchers did not deem significant. Whereas each 10 percent increase in negative experiences was associated with a 20 percent increase in the odds of depressive symptoms.

Women had 50 percent higher odds of having depressive symptoms. Those who identify as non-white and having only completed "some college," rather than completing a degree, were also associated with higher odds of depressive symptoms. All of these characteristics have previously been shown to increase a person's likelihood of depression.

Primack admits this study was narrow in its sourcing solely from a college campus, but believes the research could help people make better decisions in their social media use.

“I think that what this study does is it tells us we need to maybe be a little bit more cautious look at our behavior and then make an active decision about how we’re going to use that social media.”

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