The association between valence of social media experiences

The association between valence of social media experiences
and depressive symptoms
Brian A. PrimackMD, PhD1,2,3 Meghan A. Bisbey BA1,4 Ariel ShensaMA1,2
Nicholas D. Bowman PhD5 Sabrina A. Karim BA1,4 Jennifer M. KnightMA5
Jaime E. Sidani PhD1,2
1Center for Research onMedia, Technology, and
Health,University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA,
2Department of Medicine,University of
Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
3University Honors College,University of
Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
4School of Medicine,University of Pittsburgh,
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
5Department of Communication,West Virginia
University, Morgantown, WV, USA
BrianA.Primack, 3600 Cathedral of Learning,
4200 FifthAvenue Pittsburgh,PA15260, USA.
Email: [email protected]
Data collected at theWestVirginiaUniversity.
Grant sponsor: the Fine Foundation.
Background: Social media (SM) may confer emotional benefits via connection with others. However,
epidemiologic studies suggest that overall SM is paradoxically associated with increased
depressive symptoms. To better understand these findings,we examined the association between
positive and negative experiences on SM and depressive symptoms.
Methods:We conducted a cross-sectional survey of 1,179 full-time students at the University of
West Virginia, aged 18 to 30, in August 2016. Independent variables were self-reported positive
and negative experiences on SM. The dependent variable was depressive symptoms as measured
using the Patient-Reported OutcomesMeasurement Information System.We used multivariable
logistic regression to assess associations between SMexperiences and depressive symptoms controlling
for sociodemographic factors including age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, relationship
status, and living situation.
Results: Of the 1,179 participants, 62% were female, 28% were non-White, and 51% were single.
After controlling for covariates, each 10% increase in positive experiences on SM was associated
with a 4% decrease in odds of depressive symptoms, but this was not statistically significant
(adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 0.96; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.91–1.002). However,
each 10% increase in negative experiences was associated with a 20% increase in odds of
depressive symptoms (AOR = 1.20; 95% CI = 1.11–1.31). When both independent variables were
included in the same model, the association between negative experiences and depressive symptoms
remained significant (AOR = 1.19, 95% CI = 1.10–1.30).
Conclusions: Negative experiences online may have higher potency than positive ones because of
negativity bias. Future research should examine temporality to determine if it is also possible that
individuals with depressive symptomatology are inclined toward negative interactions.
computer/Internet technology, depression, Internet, web-based
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide (World Health
Organization, 2016). In the United States, the economic burden of
depression is over $210 billion (Greenberg, Fournier, Sisitsky, Pike,
& Kessler, 2015). Moreover, many individuals with depression also
experience physical or psychiatric comorbidities that contribute to the
overall disease burden (Greenberg et al., 2015). Only about half of individuals
experiencingmajor depression receive treatment in theUnited
States and fewer than 10% receive treatment in many other countries
(National Institute of Mental Health, 2016; SAMHSA, 2015; World
Health Organization, 2016). Depression is associated with a combination
of biological, psychological, and social factors(World Health Organization,
2016). Prior research has identified media exposures, such
as video games, television, movies, and the Internet, to be associated
with depression among adolescents (Bickham, Hswen, & Rich, 2015;
Primack et al., 2009).
However, social media (SM) use has presented a puzzle in terms of
its relationship with depression. SM use is rapidly increasing worldwide.
In the United States the percentage of young adults using SM
784 c 2018Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Depress Anxiety. 2018;35:784–794.
skyrocketed from 12% in 2005 to 90% in 2015 (Perrin, 2015). Among
online adults in 2016, Facebook remained the most popular SM platform
(79%, a 7 percentage point increase from 2015), followed by
Instagram (32%), Pinterest (31%), LinkedIn (29%), and Twitter (24%;
Greenwood, Perrin, & Duggan, 2016). Of note, as of 2016, 62% of
American adults reported getting their news from SM (Gottfried &
Shearer, 2016).
Because the goal of SM is to connect individuals, it is not surprising
that studies suggest its ability to enhance emotional support.
For example, Facebook use among college students may help maintain
established relationships, and benefits appear particularly strong
among users with low self-esteem and low life-satisfaction (Ellison,
Vitak, Gray, & Lampe, 2014). SM also facilitates the formation of
new connections, providing an alternative way to connect with others
who share similar interests (Ellison, Heino, & Gibbs, 2006; Ellison,
Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). Furthermore, individuals with more SM
connections report having greater social capital, which has also been
associated with lower depression (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2011;
Ellison et al., 2014; Steinfield, Ellison, & Lampe, 2008). This may
be because those with greater social capital are able to draw upon
resources from members of their networks, leading to useful information,
new personal relationships, and employment opportunities (Granovetter,
1973; Paxon, 1999). Consistentwith all of this, having a larger
Facebook audience has been associated with increased life satisfaction,
perceived social support, and subjective well-being (Kim & Lee,
2011; Manago, Taylor, & Greenfield, 2012).
However, other studies suggest that increased SM exposure may
counter-intuitively be associated with increased depression among
both adolescents (Lou, Yan, Nickerson, &McMorris, 2012; Pantic et al.,
2012) and adults (Kross et al., 2013; Lin et al., 2016; McDougall et al.,
2016; Shensa, Sidani, Lin, Bowman, & Primack, 2016). This may be
because SM facilitates engagement in social comparison, giving users
the impression that others are happier andmoremeaningfully engaged
(Acar, 2008; Chou & Edge, 2012; Lup, Trub, & Rosenthal, 2015). Frequency
of SM use may lead to media multitasking—either between
SM platforms or SM and other tasks—which has been associated
with depression, social anxiety, and declines in academic performance
(Becker, Alzahabi, & Hopwood, 2013; Cain, Leonard, Gabrieli, & Finn,
2016; Xu,Wang, & David, 2016).
Whereas prior studies have generally treated SM use as a unidimensional
exposure variable (e.g., via “time” or “frequency”), all SM
experiences are not the same in terms of positive or negative subjective
experience. For example, an individual can spend 2 hr engaging
in experiences that feel highly positive to the user—such as supporting
close friends with positive messages and “likes”—whereas another
user might spend those same 2 hr having highly negative experiences
including vehement arguments on emotional topics such as politics. It
would be valuable to determine if these distinct experiences are differently
associated with depression; if they are, that might provide a
direction for intervention.

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