I’m seriously considering starting a special monthly edition of this blog devoted to social media and psychology as more and more evidence emerges linking social media to stress, depression, and other negative outcomes in teens and adults. The latest study showing a correlation (but not necessarily a causative connection) between social media and stress comes from Australia, where the Australian Psychological Society’s fifth annual “Stress & Wellbeing Study” includes a special section on social media and “fear of missing out” or FOMO.
The study surveyed both light and heavy social media users. The study defines heavy social media users as those who check social media five or more times a day, and light users as those who check it less. By these measures, over half of Aussie teens are heavy social media users: 25% said they check social media “constantly,” while 12% check it more than ten times a day, and 19% check it about five to ten times per day.
Among light social media users, 24% of the total said they check social media one to four times a day, 15% check it several times a week, and 5% said they check it once a week (unsurprisingly Aussie adults aren’t as gung ho on social media, with just 23% qualifying as heavy users).
It’s important to note that some of the key measures of stress in the research on FOMO are self-reported, and thus open to all the vagaries of subjectivity; on the other hand, at a certain point it seems like common sense to simply ask people how they feel.
Aussie teens who are heavy social media users are more likely to experience FOMO, with 90% saying they are afraid they will miss something if they don’t stay connected, compared to 65% of light social media users. Similarly 78% of heavy users said they feel worried or uncomfortable if they can’t access their social media accounts, compared to 44% of light users, and 71% of heavy users said they feel excluded when they see pictures of an event they weren’t invited to, compared to 52% for light users.
Furthermore, 70% of heavy users said they feel stressed out about how they look on social media, versus 47% of light users, and 69% said they feel “brain burnout” from constant connectivity, against 50% of light users. 64% of heavy users said they feel bad about themselves if no one comments on or “likes” their photos, versus 44% of light users.