The practice of digital detox isn’t merely a passing trend; rather, it addresses the genuine issues posed by the impact of social media. In a groundbreaking study published by the American Psychological Association, researchers have uncovered a positive link between reducing social media usage and improvements in body image among adolescents and young adults. The lead author, Dr. Gary Goldfield from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, highlights the vulnerability of adolescence to body image issues and mental health challenges.
Digital Detox: Social Media Impact on Body Image
The study, published in the Psychology of Popular Media, focuses on the impact of a four-week intervention on 220 undergraduate students aged 17–25, the majority being female. The participants, regular social media users displaying symptoms of depression or anxiety, were divided into two groups. For the first week, all participants maintained their usual social media habits, with screentime tracked using a dedicated program.
Following the baseline week, half of the participants were instructed to limit their social media use to no more than 60 minutes per day, while the control group continued with their normal usage. Throughout the study, participants provided daily screentime screenshots, offering insights into their digital habits.
Social Media – A real problem
Results from the study revealed that those who reduced their social media usage by approximately 50% experienced significant improvements in how they perceived both their overall appearance and body weight. In contrast, the control group, which maintained consistent social media use, showed no significant changes in body image.
Dr. Goldfield emphasized the feasibility of this short-term intervention, stating, “Our brief, four-week intervention using screentime trackers showed that reducing social media use yielded significant improvements in appearance and weight esteem in distressed youth with heavy social media use.” The study’s findings suggest that reducing social media exposure could be a viable component in addressing body-image-related disturbances among vulnerable populations.
The study, initially conducted as a proof of concept, paves the way for future research. Dr. Goldfield and his colleagues are currently engaged in a larger study to assess whether sustained reductions in social media use can lead to more profound and enduring psychological benefits for young individuals dealing with emotional distress.
The article, titled “Reducing Social Media Use Improves Appearance and Weight Esteem in Youth with Emotional Distress,” was authored by Helen Thai, BA, McGill University; Christopher Davis, PhD, Wardah Mahboob, MA, Sabrina Perry, BA, and Alex Adams, BA, Carleton University; and Gary Goldfield, PhD, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Published online on Feb. 23, 2023, in the Psychology of Popular Media.