The results of a recent study conducted by sociologists seem to point to another conclusion: people who socialize through the Internet’s various social media are happier than people who watch TV instead. The study’s authors, John P. Robinson and Steven Martin analyzed over 30 years worth of national data in a study that concludes that unhappy people watch more TV, while people who describe themselves as very happy spend more time reading and socializing. The study can be found in the December issue of the journal Social Indicators Research .
As reported in an article at Brain Mysteries, the study did not take into account the effects of social media. How could it when the study began in 1975? Yet the conclusions of the study can easily be applied to social media.
The same mental activities employed when socializing and reading a newspaper are also used when a person is engaged in interacting through social media.
Social media, interacting at sites such as Twitter, Face Book, MySpace, Google, Yahoo and AOL groups, and even commenting in a discussion on a blog involve both social interaction and reading. Social interaction is further revved up by sites such as Stumble Upon, Digg and Delicious where people share what they appreciate. These sites add an interactive and socializing aspect to the news that links people to each other around the world. Skype, IMs and other one to one immediate communications all add a component of further socializing.
“TV doesn’t really seem to satisfy people over the long haul the way that social involvement or reading a newspaper does,” says sociologist John P. Robinson, the study co-author who is also a pioneer in time-use studies. “It’s more passive and may provide escape – especially when the news is as depressing as the economy itself. The data suggest to us that the TV habit may offer short-run pleasure at the expense of long-term malaise.”
The people who were in the study were adults in 1975, so the youngest are baby boomers. Statistically, although boomers have embraced the internet, older Americans have been slower to use social media beyond email until the last several years. The time period of the study indicate that it could barely have included Internet social interaction, especially through social media, especially by people younger than baby boomers.
Yet the findings of the study are relevant and can be applied.
The two University of Maryland sociologists conducted the study to discover what activities contributed to happiness in people’s lives. They analyzed two sets of data spanning nearly 30 years (1975-2006) gathered from nearly 30,000 adults:
- A series of time-use studies that asked people to fill out diaries for a 24-hour period and to indicate how pleasurable they found each activity;
- General Social Survey attitude studies, which Robinson calls the national premier source for monitoring changes in public attitudes – in-depth surveys that over the years consistently asked subjects how happy they feel, how they spend their time among a number of other questions.
Robinson and Martin found that the two sets of data largely coincided for most activities – with the exception of television.
From the General Social Survey, the researchers found that self-described happy people were more socially active, attended more religious services, voted more and read more newspapers. By contrast, unhappy people watched significantly more television in their spare time.
The findings of the study point to the validity for involvement in social sites and web interfacing as these activities involve human connection and focused mental activity, especially involving sight as reading.
The early adopters of Internet social interaction were teens and twenty-somethings. At the time the study was completing baby boomers and younger adults had moved beyond email and shopping to interact in social media sites. That migration continues as new groups and sites develop or expand to encompass niche interests.
Interacting through social media involves socializing, concentrated reading, decision making and focused visual perception, which watching television does not. People watch TV fairly passively taking in the overall picture, but not actively looking to spot visual details. Socializing develops a feeling of community and belonging, including through the web. There is little community developed by watching TV alone.
When people socialize they are actively looking for visual clues about the other person’s feelings and intent, facial expressions, body movements, gestures are seen as significant. Where to focus one’s attention needs to be consciously decided for best results.
When watching TV the camera does the deciding for the viewer. This occurs in every type of show, but may be best illustrated by the difference between attending and watching a sports event or watching it on TV.
The study’s basic research and findings could not include the effects of social media itself on a person’s level of happiness. Yet when the when the findings are distilled to the underlying meanings and activities they can be applied to new activities, such as social media. Socializing and newspaper reading both point to information gathering, intense communication from other individuals about current concerns, decision making, and concentrated focus of vision. These activities are all a part of interacting through social media.
Social media is new and developing as this article is being written. It is too new for any valid study to have had the time conduct meaningful research, which takes time. However the results of the study conducted by sociologists John P. Robinson and Steven Martin at the University of Maryland seem to strong point to the idea that people who are active in social media are happier than people who instead watch television in their spare time.
Is social media contributing to your happiness? How? Comments are welcomed!
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