Why do young people use social media and the Internet? One reason is to keep up with the news, particularly about entertainment and celebrities. Another is to express themselves. Though there are worries about the cognitive effects of high levels of Internet use, some degree of “living in public” may actually be beneficial for emotional health.
A 2012 study published in Psychological Services, “The Therapeutic Value of Adolescents’ Blogging About Social-Emotional Difficulties,” examined the effects of anonymous blogging by conducting a controlled experiment with a group of teenagers. The researchers, based at the University of Haifa, divided the teens into six groups: One that kept no diary; another that kept an offline computer diary; and four blogging groups that wrote either with a public comment function enabled or disabled, and either about their own experiences or about anything they wished. Those in the four blogging groups were free to publicize their blog or not, as they desired, as long as they maintained anonymity.
The study’s findings include:
- All four of the blogger groups showed a significant positive treatment effect compared to the non-blogging and control groups, and their “level of distress” diminished. “The spontaneous and anonymous interpersonal interactions available in cyberspace may alleviate users’ self-perceptions and negative emotions and, consequently, contribute to their ability to cope with difficulties in their offline environment.”
- Teenagers who blogged about their experiences showed more improvement in their social and emotional health than those who did not blog: “This finding is consistent with the research literature that presents repeated evidence of the positive impact of expressive writing on emotional relief.”
- Among the bloggers, those who blogged with open comments enabled — inviting outside feedback — showed more improvement than those who did not, and those who wrote about themselves showed more improvement than those who did not.
- The number of males in the study group was relatively small, so potential gender-based differences in outcomes were not analyzed: “Gender was not treated in the current study as a statistical moderator.”
The authors conclude: “Self-exposure, typical in cyberspace in general and in blogging in particular, could serve as an important factor in building social relationships and in coping with loneliness, shyness, social anxiety, and other conditions that inhibit healthy, satisfactory social connections. An adolescent who feels socially rejected in his or her physical environment can exploit the virtual space that he or she manages as an equal; doing so, the Internet user can create him/herself anew, improve self-image, increase self-confidence, and gather friends — factors that may then be reflected in his or her physical surroundings.”
Related research: A 2013 study in Computers in Human Behavior, “Adolescents’ Use of Instant Messaging as a Means of Emotional Relief,” examines the impact of sending text messages on the emotional state of adolescents. Two groups were compared, and the “findings revealed that IM conversation significantly contributed to the well-being of distressed adolescents.”
Tags: mental health, youth