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No link between Instagram use and levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness in adults, new study reveals

16th April 2024

Adults who use Instagram are no more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression or loneliness than that those who don’t, according to new research.

The UK study, presented at the British Psychological Society’s Cyberpsychology Section Conference, also found that there was no significant link between passive use (browsing) or active use (posting videos and images or interacting with others’ posts) of Instagram and levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness.

The study used a nationally representative sample of UK adults, with an average age of 44.

While some previous studies* have found a negative link between mental wellbeing and social media use, particularly around issues of body image and social comparisons of ‘idealised’ posts, the research has often had a female bias and a focus on younger adults (18-30). The study authors say that often little consideration is given to differences in demographics when considering the impact of social media use on wellbeing. 

In the current study, Instagram users (372) and non-Instagram users (100) were ‘matched’ to take account of age, gender, education and nationality. The sample included 248 women and 219 men, as well as two people who identified as ‘other’ and three who preferred not to say, with participants aged between 19 and 82.

Participants were asked whether they used Instagram or not, and Instagram users were questioned about whether and how often they engaged with three types of Instagram use: Interaction (actively posting/commenting on content), broadcast (posting/uploading content), and browsing (passively looking at content without leaving comments or interacting with anyone).

Levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness were assessed through widely used questionnaires.**

The research was carried out by Dr Sam Roberts, of Liverpool John Moores University; and Professor Thomas Pollet, Connor Malcolm and Dr Kristofor McCarty of Northumbria University's Department of Psychology.

Dr Roberts said: “We know that different groups may be affected in different ways by Instagram usage, and our study is one which adds to a body of research which has found that the overall use of social media on the wellbeing of adults is very small.

“The average age of our study participants was a lot older than the average age of those who’ve taken part in previous research, which could have impacted the findings, and also suggests that different groups respond differently to social media and its possible impact on wellbeing.”

Dr Roberts also said that what people view on social media can influence their wellbeing too. “Because the content on individuals’ Instagram and other social media feeds can vary immensely, exposure to different types of content will have different effects on users. 

“As such, going forward, it’s important that research is done over a longer period of time, and that it examines the type of content that people are looking at and engaging with.”

The study authors point out that as the data on different types of Instagram use is self-reported, it could contain inaccuracies. A further limitation of the study is its cross-sectional nature, meaning data was collected at only one point in time. 

Read the full study.

*Reer et al (2019) Psychosocial well-being and social media engagement: The mediating roles of social comparison orientation and fear of missing out.

Brown and Tiggemann (2016), Attractive celebrity and peer images on Instagram: Effect on women’s mood and body image

**The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale was used to measure levels of anxiety and depression. The Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale was used to measure loneliness.

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