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Social Media and Depression Symptoms: a Meta-Analysis

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Social Networking Sites (SNS) have close to 3 billion users worldwide. Recently, however, SNS have come under media scrutiny for their potential association with depression. Two previous meta-analyses failed to find evidence for a robust concurrent association between SNS use and depression symptoms. However, these analyses focused primarily on the time spent using SNS. The current meta-analysis is the first to consider the multi-dimensional nature of SNS use, and examines separately the quantitative associations of depression symptoms to SNS use in three types of SNS studies examining three distinct constructs of SNS use: time spent using SNS, intensity of SNS use, and problematic SNS use. Sixty-two studies (N = 451, 229) met inclusion criteria. Depression symptoms were significantly, but weakly, associated with time spent using SNS (r = 0.11) and intensity of SNS use (r = 0.09). However, the association of depression symptoms to problematic SNS use was moderate (r = 0.29), was significantly higher than for time spent using SNS (Qbetween = 35.85, p < 0.001) or intensity of SNS use (Qbetween = 13.95, p < 0.001), and was not significantly moderated by age, gender, year of study publication, or mode of recruitment. These results suggest that future research examining causal models of the relation of SNS use and depression, as well as research on intervention and prevention, should focus in more detail on individuals who are engaging in a pattern of problematic SNS use.

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  1. The vast majority of studies utilized self-report measures of depression. Therefore, it was not possible to include mode of assessment (i.e., self- vs. clinician-report) as a moderator.

  2. Many studies included in the present meta-analysis assessed gender through self-report items and did not appear to specifically query about biological sex. Thus, we use the term “gender” throughout the present paper as opposed to sex.


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Correspondence to Simone Cunningham.

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Cunningham, S., Hudson, C.C. & Harkness, K. Social Media and Depression Symptoms: a Meta-Analysis. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol 49, 241–253 (2021).

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