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The Surprising Link Between Passive Social Media Browsing and Mental Health

A new study has revealed that browsing social media without liking or commenting on posts may be linked to having a worrying mental health condition.

Researchers from China Central Normal University found that those who use social platforms “passively” are more likely to suffer from social anxiety compared to those who use them actively, such as uploading posts and sharing life events.

The team surveyed more than 500 college students about their mental health and social media use, and found that "snoopers" were more afraid of unfamiliar situations in their real lives.

On the other hand, the team found that those who actively used social media had more social support and improved friendship quality.

The study, published in the journal BMC Psychology, included about 571 students from Shanxi Province and Hubei Province in China in the period from May to July 2022.

The group completed questionnaires measuring openness, active and passive use of social media, self-evaluation, and social anxiety.

To measure openness, participants were asked to rank a series of statements: one indicating strongly disagree and four indicating strongly agree.

Some of these statements included: “I see myself as a creative person” and “I see myself as someone with an active imagination.”

The next measure, active and passive social media use, was a nine-item questionnaire asking about the amount of participants' activities, such as likes and comments.

“Active use refers to information-generating behaviors that enhance communication, such as posting status updates or comments,” the study noted.

"Passive use refers to information browsing behaviors that lack communication, such as viewing other people's home pages or photos," the team explained in a research paper.
The self-evaluation portion asked participants to agree or disagree with statements such as: “I think I am an intelligent person.”

The final questionnaire focused on social anxiety with sample items including “Large groups make me nervous” and “It takes time to overcome my shyness in new situations.”

Participants were then asked to rank the items from “not at all like me” to “very much like me.”

The study revealed that those who reported negative social media use were more likely to produce dysfunctional beliefs.

“People tend to portray themselves in overly flattering ways on social media platforms, which may lead passive users to unconsciously fall into the dilemma of upward social comparisons when they see their friends’ updates,” the team wrote. Previous studies have also found that individuals who use social networking services "Negatively, they have higher jealousy and lower self-esteem. In particular, negative use of social media services and websites can lead to ruminative thinking (repetitive thoughts generated through attempts to confront self-discrepancy) related to interpersonal relationships, which easily exacerbates symptoms of social anxiety."

The team found that when users actively use the platforms, they feel comfortable portraying themselves to others and receiving feedback.

Source: Daily Mail - Publication date: 19/12/2023

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