There is a paranoia that surrounds advancing technology and its potential harms, but a new study finds that frequent Internet and social media users do not necessarily have higher stress levels — for women, certain digital tools decrease stress.
via NY Times:
But a new study by researchers at Pew Research Center and Rutgers University found the opposite: Frequent Internet and social media users do not have higher stress levels than those who use technology less often. And for women, using certain digital tools decreases stress.
“The fear of missing out and jealousy of high-living friends with better vacations and happier kids than everybody else turned out to be not true,” said Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science and technology research at Pew and an author of the study. The exception was when Facebook users saw news of close friends going through stressful events like unemployment or illness.
Then why do we keep hearing that technology is harmful? Fear of technology is nothing new. Telephones, watches and televisions were similarly believed to interrupt people’s lives and pressure them to be more productive. In some ways they did, but the benefits offset the stressors. New technology is making our lives different, but not necessarily more stressful than they would have been otherwise.
“It’s yet another example of how we overestimate the effect these technologies are having in our lives,” said Keith Hampton, a sociologist at Rutgers and an author of the study.
Researchers are in the early stages of determining the effects of technology use on our brains. Some say it can increase anxiety and impatience and decrease the ability to focus, learn and remember. Others have found that itincreases trust, social support and close relationships. Most likely it does both, depending on how people use it.
The Pew and Rutgers researchers measured stress levels in a representative group of people by using a standard stress scale that ranks people’s responses to questions about their lives. Then they measured their frequency of digital technology use. They controlled for demographic factors like marital and education status.
They found no effect on stress levels among technology users over all. And women who frequently use Twitter, email and photo-sharing apps scored 21 percent lower on the stress scale than those who did not.
That could be because sharing life events enhances well-being, social scientists say, and women tend to do it more than men both online and off. Technology seems to provide “a low-demand and easily accessible coping mechanism that is not experienced or taken advantage of by men,” the report said.