Examination of the temporal sequence between social media use and well-being in a representative sample of adults
Abstract: Given insufficient prospective evidence for relationships between social media use and well-being among adults, the present study examined the temporal sequence between social media use and psychological distress and life satisfaction, and explored age and gender differences. A representative sample of adults (N = 7331; 62.4% women; Mage = 51.94; SD = 13.48; 15–94 years) were surveyed annually across four waves. Cross-lagged panel models demonstrated bidirectional relationships between social media use and well-being. Higher psychological distress and lower life satisfaction predicted higher social media use more strongly than the reverse direction, with effects particularly pronounced for the impact of psychological distress. Although the patterns of findings were relatively consistent across age and gender, results suggested that women and middle- and older-aged adults experience detrimental effects of social media use on well-being, which may drive subsequent increased use of social media. The bidirectional relationships suggest that adults who experience psychological distress or lower life satisfaction may seek to use social media as a way to alleviate poor well-being. However, paradoxically, this maladaptive coping mechanism appears to drive increased social media use which in turn can exacerbate poor well-being. Clinicians should be aware of these bidirectional relationships and work with clients towards replacing ineffective strategies with more helpful coping approaches. As this study used a simplistic measure of social media use, future research should address this limitation and explore nuanced relationships afforded by assessing specific social media activities or exposure to certain types of content.