Instagram: no link with anxiety, depression and loneliness

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, 372 Instagram users and 100 non-Instagram users 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.

Instagram users were questioned about whether and how often they commented on existing content, uploaded novel content or browsed.

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

Lead author Dr Sam Roberts, a senior lecturer in psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, 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.


*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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