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Excess use of social media may lead to depression and loneliness

Raghu Kshitiz

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Excessive use of social media like Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram could lead to depression and loneliness as this habit is associated with poor well-being,researchers have warned.

A new study, being published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that limiting screen time on these apps could boost one’s wellness.

The study has tried to look into the causal side of things, and see whether people may actually feel better when they cut down on social media.

“Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being,” the authors concluded.

“When you are not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you are actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life,” said Melissa Hunt, associate director of clinical training at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

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For the study, researchers from the varsity, included 143 undergraduate participants. The team designed their experiment to include the three platforms most popular with the participants.

They monitored the students for a week to get a baseline reading of their social media use, and gave them questionnaires that assessed their well-being according to seven different factors: social support, fear of missing out (aka FOMO), loneliness, autonomy and self-acceptance (a measure of psychological well-being), anxiety, depression, and self-esteem.

They collected objective usage data automatically tracked by iPhones for active apps, not those running in the background, and asked respondents to complete a survey to determine mood and well-being.

“Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study,” Hunt told Science Daily.

The researchers chose to limit social media, rather than have subjects stop using it altogether, because it was a more realistic option, she noted.

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Researchers find link between brain activity and depressed mood

Raghu Kshitiz

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Researchers from University of California San Francisco have identified a common pattern of brain activity linked to feelings of low mood, particularly in people who have a tendency toward anxiety.

The findings published in the journal Cellcould help scientists to develop new therapies to help people with mood disorders such as depression by convincing the brain to ‘unlearn’ the detrimental signaling patterns of these diseases, according to researchers at the UCSF.

The study was funded by the Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

“It is remarkable that we are able to see the actual neural substrates of human mood directly from the brain,” study leader Dr Edward Chang, a UCSF Health neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, said in a press release.

“The findings have scientific implications for our understanding of how specific brain regions contribute to mood disorders, but also practical implications for identifying biomarkers that could be used for new technology designed to treat these disorders, which is a major priority of our SUBNETS effort,” Chang said.

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The researchers recruited 21 patient volunteers with epilepsy who had had 40 to 70 electrodes implanted on the brain’s surface and in deeper structures of the brain as part of standard preparation for surgery to remove seizure-causing brain tissue.

Over seven to 10 days,the researchers recorded a wide range of brain activity in these patients over the course of seven to 10 days, particularly focusing on certain deep brain structures that have been previously implicated in mood regulation.

The researchers then used computational algorithms to match patterns of brain activity to changes in the patients’ reported mood. Patients logged their mood throughout the day.

These new algorithms were developed by the lead author, Lowry Kirkby, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Sohal lab, and Francisco Luongo, PhD, a recent alumnus of UCSF’s Neuroscience Graduate Program.

In the past, most human brain research on mood disorders relied on studies in which participants lie in an fMRI scanner and look at upsetting images or listen to sad stories.

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