Many influencers and other users limit their social media use for a week in hopes of positive effects. A small study in Britain shows that the positive and negative effects are more likely to be more balanced if you abstain for just a few days. No withdrawal-like effects were found, the research duo wrote in the journal “PLOS One.”

Michael Wadsley and Niklas Ihssen from Durham University included 51 moderate to heavy users of social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube, in their analysis. Research has suggested that abruptly stopping social media use can lead to withdrawal symptoms similar to drug use, and that a “digital detox” has a positive impact on wellbeing and mental health.

Negative and positive emotions

The researchers explain that no such apparent connection was found in their subjects (16 men and 35 women) aged 18 to 25. Restricting use had subtle and potentially adverse effects on well-being. Restraint can eliminate experiences that trigger negative emotions, such as social comparisons or fear of missing out. But this also applies to positive emotions as well as social recognition.

Most participants managed to significantly reduce their social media use during the week, but only seven people managed to abstain completely. Therefore, the recurrence rate is very high. It was also frequently mentioned that more time was spent playing video games or shopping online to compensate. There were no guidelines in the study to restrict mobile phone use in general.

The research duo explains that possible negative effects can be prevented by switching to other digital offerings and by keeping social media use mostly limited, but not completely stopped. This will require larger studies. In any case, people turning their backs on social media for just a few days is unlikely to have a significant impact on their mood.

What am I actually doing on social media?

Leonard Reinecke, a scientist at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz who was not involved in the research, criticizes digital detox research as a whole. The definition alone is vague. Additionally, the professor of media effects and media psychology said that imposing restrictions that the test subjects did not choose themselves created a negative emotion.

Reinecke doesn’t believe in talking about addiction when it comes to heavy social media or smartphone use. This is “absolutely completely unfounded in the vast majority of cases.” There is only a very small portion of users who exhibit problematic and addictive behavior. These people often have different addictions at the same time. The smartphone has become a central hub for many different applications that can ultimately create positive and negative habits, Reinecke said. The central step should be self-reflection. For example: “What will I actually do on social media with my smartphone? What do I experience as enriching? What would be good for me?” Thus, possible negative cycles can be broken.

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