Psychological Aspects of Social Media and Mental Well-Being

By Baruth, Katey | Journal of Human Services, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Psychological Aspects of Social Media and Mental Well-Being


Baruth, Katey, Journal of Human Services


Psychological Aspects of Social Media and Mental Well-Being

Since the development of the first social media site SixDegrees in 1997, scholars in the field of human services have begun the process of exploring the many ripe areas of study in this arena (Boyd & Ellison, 2007; Heidemann, Klier, & Probst, 2012; Kuss & Griffiths, 2011). The continued increase in popularity of such sites such as Twitter, Google+, Facebook, MySpace, Instagram, and Bebo has created a virtual environment with almost unlimited access to once personal information (Muise, Christofides, & Desmarais, 2009). For example, since the launch of Twitter on March 21st, 2006, the number of registered users of this site exceeds a billion with more than three-fourths of users reporting to be outside the United States (Twitter, Inc., 2014). In March of 2014 alone, 255 million individuals were monthly Twitter users with well over 500 million tweets sent per day (Twitter, Inc., 2014). With the astronomical use of these sites, as well as a change in the perspective in regard to the views of social connection in society, human service researchers have raced to keep pace in exploring the impact of social media on our world (Antonucci, Ajrouch, & Birditt, 2014). Social relationships, whether virtual, face-to-face, or both, are immensely important in the lives of humans around the world (Antonucci, Ajrouch, & Birditt, 2014; Kiesler, 2014). The advancement of social networking sites, in combination with a rise in internet use by all age groups, has almost taken over cyberspace with tweets, retweets, wall postings, selfies, and hashtags, and has changed the way individuals communicate today compared to past generations (Castilles, 2011; Kiesler, 2014). Even the prestigious lexicographers and linguists at the Oxford Dictionary have recently incorporated such social media driven new words as unfriend, textspeak, emoticons, and smartphone into the ever growing vernacular of the English language (Reed, 2014).

While it is clear that the information super highway is more heavily trafficked today than ever before, scholars have yielded varied results when examining the correlation between psychological factors related to use of social media sites. Researchers once believed that the popularity of connecting with others via the internet would lead to a decline in personal, face-to-face interactions as well as a decrease in social bonds (Ellison, Steinfield, Lampe, 2007). Current researchers, however, have reported that the effect has been quite the opposite, as there has been an increase in reported interpersonal connections due to the rise in usage of social media technology (Ellison et al., 2007). Jacobsen and Forste (2011) suggested that the current methods of social media have many positive benefits such as increasing the perceptions of relationship closeness and connectedness among users (Jacobsen & Forte, 2011). Reich (2010) suggested that these sites often create a psychological sense of community which includes a perception of networked individualism. Networked individualism is the concept that individuals are able to maintain an inherent sense of individuality while at the same time engaging in multiple groups in cyberspace (Reich, 2010). He also suggested that being able to maintain an unique identity while participating in multiple online social groups has a positive influence on the individual's perception of personal investment of membership in the group, influence on the community, integration and fulfillment of needs within the group, shared emotional experiences within the group, and immersion in the online community (Reich, 2010).

Additionally, Utz, Tanis, and Vermeulen (2012) found that individuals who self-disclose via social media could be likely to build new online friendships, as well as experience a boost in self-esteem. Ellison and colleagues (2007) have found that introverted individuals with low self-esteem have reported that being provided social opportunities to interface, without the anxiety associated with in-person interactions, has been beneficial in making new connections. …

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