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New Studies Link Facebook Addiction To Poor Health And Bad Decision Making

January 15, 2019 1:25 p.m.

Guest: Kevin Lewis, associate professor of sociology, UC San Diego

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Related Story: New Studies Link Facebook Addiction To Poor Health And Bad Decision Making


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

A handful of recently published studies have made connections between time spent on Facebook and everything from depression to poor health and decision making. University of California Associate Professor Kevin Lewis has researched the evolution of social media networks. He's given a TED talk on this subject. His work has been published in the American Journal of Sociology and a number of other places. Kevin welcome and thanks for joining us. Thanks so much for having me Jay. So a new study in the Journal of behavioral addictions reports links between addiction to Facebook and poor health bad sleep hygiene and even bad emotional health.

Does this surprise you at all.

No it doesn't. I think the the negative consequences of addiction which which seem to be part of the point of this study are not at all surprising I think what's more surprising to a lot of people is that Facebook should be a site of addiction in the first place. That's not the way we. We often think about it you know.

How do you characterize Facebook addiction.

I think it's quite similar to a lot of other addictions and so you know the fact that the researchers are finding that there are a lot of other negative correlates to addiction that I think itself is not surprising. What surprises a lot of people is is that just you know Facebook itself is interacting with other people in a way could be addicting.

And how is it that Facebook of all things could have the impact it has on people how could it affect our physical and mental well-being so much.

Sure. Well there's a certain allure here right. The allure of connecting with other people and again I think that's what makes some of this finding about addiction so surprising. But when you step back a moment is it so different from sitting in front of you know let's say a slot machine a lot of this consumption is very passive. We're getting little jolts of pleasure from scrolling other people's news feeds and posting our own information about ourselves. But at the end of the day I'm not sure a lot of people get some deeper meaning from this and to what extent they're seeking out deliberate activity versus just finding a way to to waste their time potentially unhelpful ways.

Mm hmm.

And could you sort of describe how it is that Facebook impacts us physically and even emotionally the connection the physical outcomes I'm not so familiar with and I would imagine that that's more of a I'm a secondary effect unless there's some consequence of just not being physically active Emotionally however I mean there's probably a variety of different processes here going on in the act of looking out at and other people who are presenting idealized versions of themselves and reflecting on one's own life and not feeling you know very special or or potentially even happy. And again a lot of this consumption I think is is very passive which is is bound to have a number of psychological consequences.

Mm hmm. And one indication of Facebook addiction according to a study from Michigan State University is risky behavior so are there any other ways the social network can impact our behavior in real life.

Yeah potentially variety different ways. I mean you're you're consuming information about people that you probably would have gotten face to face otherwise so to speak and so this creates something of a vacuum and in your face to face interaction perhaps and insofar as you're getting a lot of information online than you would have gotten face to face otherwise and there's just having also this some this available distraction in your pocket any moment of the day that might have time that might have been felt you know daydreaming or thinking about something else or interacting face to face with another human being.

This is another way that this tool is as potentially addictive and problematic are those impacts different for say Baby Boomers Gen X millennials or teenagers. I would certainly think so for potentially a variety of different reasons one might just have to do with the ease of using technology in the first place my grandparents for instance you know might not feel comfortable using a computer in the first place much less a Smartphone or social media. The younger generation has raised on these devices of course much more comfortable with it but also for a number more individual reasons related to personality use related what else is going on in one's social life certain type of my certain type of people might be more or less prone to using social media in the first place and certainly the consequences of this use will vary also across different types of people and different types of personalities.

And I know that the research suggests among millennials in particular that comparing themselves to others on social media can cause depression. But you know what about hope and inspiration. Is Facebook really the problem or is it an individual's perception and attitude about life that could be problematic.

Well I think both these things are certainly at play. I'd be cautious here to pinpoint millennials and something really unique going on among among them that wouldn't be generalizable to other types of people. And of course you get a kind of a chicken and the egg issue going on as is Facebook really a cause or consequence of some of the dynamics we see. I don't think it's just a reflection of a broader social trend. I think there is an active causal force here that some that's actively making things worse and not only worse to be fair there's a lot of certainly benefits as well seeking hope and inspiration and genuine connection.

But I think it is no surprise that a lot of these studies are documenting negative effects and on the aggregate I'm not sure that the debate four we're getting more than we're we're losing so to speak here.

So from where you said Facebook is in some ways bringing out the worst in Pete I rather think in many ways. Yeah OK. Now are there any healthy uses for social networks like Facebook.

Yeah I think if you listen to people talk about why social media created and what they're intended for I must think I think they certainly can foster those types of events connecting with other people keeping in touch over long distances. But I don't think that's the majority of usage today. And I think again you can point to the research that that suggests a lot of this I know personally a student mine in class a couple of years ago was talking about how she deleted her own Facebook account and was just happier because of it.

I did the same and I have to say I just don't miss it. And I think that has also given me a clearer view about what exactly I personally wasn't wasn't wasn't doing on these sites. So it's very anecdotal but I think potentially more persuasive for a lot of people than than the research for casual conversations of this sort.

What are some mindful things that we can all do when it comes to social media in our mental and physical health.

I mean mindfulness in general right is about attention about being present about about intention as well as attention. And it dawns on me that that I think a lot of Facebook uses rather passive and I think one mindful approach we can take to it is to ask ourselves what is our intention here what do we hope to gain from our usage it insofar as we're just using it to waste time without some real direction to that activity. If we were to reflect a bit more in that type of usage in particular I think people would be a lot happier in a lot more deliberate with their social media use as they are with many other activities that aren't like having a slot machine in your pocket so to speak.

I've been speaking with UCSD associate professor of sociology Kevin Lewis. Kevin thanks for joining us. Thanks so much.