Pew: Social Media Use Can Lead to Indirect Stress

Thanks to the "contagion of caring," social media use can indirectly lead to more stress, particularly for Facebook users, but is not directly related to higher stress levels.

That is one of the key findings of a new study from the Pew Research Center and comes as the government promotes programs to ensure that everybody is connected to the 'net.

"There is no evidence in our data that social media users feel more stress than people who use digital technologies less or not at all," said Rutgers University professor Keith Hampton, the main author of the survey report. "There is a great deal of speculation that social media users feel extra pressure to participate and keep up on social media to avoid the 'fear of missing out' in activities that others share, and that they feel anxious after viewing the successful images that friends project on Facebook. But it turns out social media users don't feel any more stress in everyday life than non-users or those who only use it lightly."

The study, of 1,801 adults, found that while those using Internet, cell phones and social media do not generally have higher levels of stress than non-users, all that connectedness does make them more aware of the stress in other people's lives, which can then lead to higher stress in their own lives. That kind of stress is contagious, said Pew. "It turns out that social media use helps people learn about, and reminds them of stressful events in the lives of friends and family. If people are made aware of undesirable events in others' lives, they feel more stress themselves. This is the 'cost of caring.'"

The phone survey was conducted in August and September of 2014. The margin of error is 2.6 percentage points plus or minus for the entire sample and 3.3 percentage points for the 1,076 who are users of social networking cites.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.