Researchers in Turkey and the United Kingdom have unearthed a complex relationship between social media use and mental health — revealing that the negative impact of social media addiction on mental health is significantly mediated by internet addiction and “phubbing” — the act of ignoring others in favor of mobile phone use. The findings have been published in Psychological Reports.
Prior research in this field has yielded mixed results, with some studies suggesting a direct link between excessive social media use and mental health issues like depression and anxiety, while others found no significant effects. Naif Ergun, Zafer Ozkan, and Mark Griffiths sought to mend this inconsistency by prompting a more nuanced examination of related behaviors — such as internet addiction, the compulsive use of the internet to the point where it interferes with daily life, and “phubbing”, a relatively new phenomenon where individuals focus on their phones instead of engaging in face-to-face interactions.
The purpose of their study was to delve deeper into the potential connections between social media use and mental health; with the rise of digital technologies in everyday life, understanding these relationships is more critical than ever. As such, their research explored not just direct correlations but also the roles of internet addiction and “phubbing” in mediating these
603 university students in Turkey were recruited and completed a comprehensive study. All participants, 451 females and 152 males averaging 22 years of age, were all recruited from 20 different cities across 30 different universities. The participants, who were asked about their social media habits, internet use, and experiences of phubbing, also completed assessments measuring indicators of mental health such as levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. This method allowed the researchers to understand the interplay between these various factors.
The study revealed that while social media addiction was linked to poorer mental health, this relationship was significantly influenced by other factors. Specifically, internet addiction was found to be a full mediator between social media addiction and depression. Both internet addiction and “phubbing” were mediators in the relationship between social media addiction and anxiety and stress.
In other terms, the more a person was addicted to social media, the more likely they were to exhibit internet addiction and “phubbing” behaviors — which in turn, were associated with increased levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.
These findings offer a novel perspective on the indirect effects of social media addiction on mental health as mediated through internet addiction and “phubbing”. However, it is crucial to consider the study’s cross-sectional nature — which tend to highlight correlations but cannot definitively prove causation. The focus on a specific demographic also limits the generalizability of the findings across different age groups or cultural contexts, and the reliance on self-reported data introduces the possibility of bias. Despite these limitations, the study provides significant insights into the complex web of relationships between digital behaviors and mental health.
“The present study contributes novel findings to the literature by showing the important roles of internet addiction and phubbing in explaining the relationship between social media addiction and poor mental health,” the researchers concluded. “…practitioners need to raise awareness of technology-based behaviors’ impact. They may give psychoeducation during their professional activities. More importantly, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists should consider the influence of technology-based behaviors on mental health during diagnosis and treatment. The findings of the present study may also contribute to developing effective intervention strategies by showing that internet addiction is an important variable in other problematic use of technologies.”
The study, “Social Media Addiction and Poor Mental Health: Examining the Mediating Roles of Internet Addiction and Phubbing“, was authored by Naif Ergun at Mardin Artuklu University, Zafer Ozkan at Ordu University, and Mark Griffiths at Nottingham Trent University.