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Description: As a bit of a balance to the complex set of questions posed in one of my other recent posts looking at how we might theorize and do research about currently alarmingly high levels of teen anxiety (misery) lets consider a simpler but related research question. If some of the issues with wellbeing among teens ARE linked to their use of social media and, in particular, if the comparative focus of social media leads to, among other things, to negative body image issues then would a significant reduction in social media use over a relatively short period of time improve the body images of teens and emerging adults? Also, would the effect, if one is observed, be stronger in females than in males? This is a MUCH simpler question or research design challenge than considering the sociohistorical contexts of teen misery I discussed in a recent post. SO, take a moment and work out how you would design a study to ethically examine the possible causal role of social media use in poor body self-image among teens and emerging adults and when you are done have a read through the article linked below that describes the efforts of a group of Canadian researchers to try and address these questions.

Source: Reducing social media use significantly improves body image in teens, young adults: study. Wency Leung, The Globe and Mail.

Date: February 23, 2023

Image by 巻(Maki) from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, how did your research design compare to that used by the researchers whose work was described in the linked article? Had you included a manipulation of amount of social media use as the researchers did or did you decide to consider a correlational approach that looked at the relationship between amount of social media use and levels of anxiety and depression? The problem with a correlational approach is that it is not possible, using such an approach, to identify whether social media use contributes to levels of anxiety and depression or whether levels of anxiety or depression leads to greater social media use. Another key research design feature is how participants were assigned to the “reduce social media use” or “continue as usual” groups. While not stated in the media article describing the research (and I am still trying to access the published research article) it is likely that random assignment was used to decide who was placed into which group as this would be the best (and only real way) to control for other possible causal variables. The amount of time with reduced social media use was small (three weeks) and as such the finding of significantly improves body image is impressive. In addition, it seems unlikely that participants would have done any particular thing or things in their “found time” of an hour or so per day that would have contributed to increases in body image (other than forgoing social media). Before starting to advocate for general reductions in social media use, however, it would be good to think a bit about what else you might want to research. For example, do you think the positive changes in body image will be sustained? Were participants aware of the hypothesis being considered in the study (and if so would that matter)? Despite these desires for more information the reported study results are encouraging as they suggest that relatively small changes (a 50% reduction in social media engagement time) can lead to significant improvements in body image. Good news!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why might social media use be related to poor body image?
  2. Were you surprised at the reported fact that the results of the study did not vary by gender?
  3. Are there other studies you would like to do or see done before moving forward with intervention planning in relation to teens (emerging adults), social media use and body image?

References (Read Further):

Murray, M. A., Obeid, N., Gunnell, K. E., Buchholz, A., Flament, M. F., & Goldfield, G. S. (2023). Appearance satisfaction mediates the relationship between recreational screen time and depressive symptoms in adolescents. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 28(1), 12-21. Summary

Gori, A., & Topino, E. (2023). The Association between Alexithymia and Social Media Addiction: Exploring the Role of Dysmorphic Symptoms, Symptoms Interference, and Self-Esteem, Controlling for Age and Gender. Journal of Personalized Medicine, 13(1), 152. Link

Schneider, J., Pegram, G., Gibson, B., Talamonti, D., Tinoco, A., Craddock, N., … & Forshaw, M. (2023). A mixed‐studies systematic review of the experiences of body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders during the COVID‐19 pandemic. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 56(1), 26-67. Link

Marques, M. D., Paxton, S. J., McLean, S. A., Jarman, H. K., & Sibley, C. G. (2022). A prospective examination of relationships between social media use and body dissatisfaction in a representative sample of adults. Body Image, 40, 1-11. Link

Vuong, A. T., Jarman, H. K., Doley, J. R., & McLean, S. A. (2021). Social media use and body dissatisfaction in adolescents: The moderating role of thin-and muscular-ideal internalisation. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(24), 13222. Link

Aparicio-Martinez, P., Perea-Moreno, A. J., Martinez-Jimenez, M. P., Redel-Macías, M. D., Pagliari, C., & Vaquero-Abellan, M. (2019). Social media, thin-ideal, body dissatisfaction and disordered eating attitudes: An exploratory analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(21), 4177. Link

Franchina, V., & Coco, G. L. (2018). The influence of social media use on body image concerns. International Journal of Psychoanalysis and Education, 10(1), 5-14. Link

Fardouly, J., & Vartanian, L. R. (2016). Social media and body image concerns: Current research and future directions. Current opinion in psychology, 9, 1-5. Link