38 Feeling a "need to belong" increases Messaging on Smartphones and Social Media in College Students

Researchers at the University of Alabama have found that increased activity on social media and smartphones is due to students feeling lonely. Many college students have shared their stories of feeling pressure to fit in when looking at other students' social media accounts. Previous research focused on people's emotions and moods after participating on one social media website, but there had not been any research on what causes people to actively use social media and messaging apps. This recent study gives insight into why students stay connected through different outlets.

Previous research shows that active social media use leads to a decrease in mood

Many people believe that actively participating in social media will put them in a better mood, but studies show that the opposite is true. A 2014 study researched how participants felt after being actively on Facebook for at least 20 minutes. For this study, 123 German-speaking Facebook users were surveyed after spending time on the social media site. The time users spent on Facebook before taking the survey ranged from 0 to 120 minutes, with an average of 12.78 minutes. The survey was only three minutes long with questions about the user's Facebook and internet use. Based on the answers provided by the participants, people's moods decreased the more time they actively spent on Facebook.

The more students use social media, the more they feel a "need to belong"

The recent study wanted to, "Explore the relationship between college students' psychological need, digital media use, and social engagement." Researchers surveyed 446 college-aged students enrolled in communication classes to try and understand if their emotional behavior influenced their activity on social media and messaging apps. Participants were asked to answer questions about social media use, social engagement, smartphone use, and a "need to belong" using a 1-5 scale.

The mean answers from each topic show that students agree with the statements provided in the survey. For need to belong, students agreed that they do not like to be alone and want to be included. Students frequently used social media to share events, videos and stories about school. They also use smartphones very frequently to interact with friends. Finally, their answers about social engagement show that students very frequently hang out with their friends at school events.

The results show that each topic positively correlates with the next. When students feel a "need to belong," they are more likely to use social media and smartphones in order to connect with their friends and family. Their increase in social media and smartphone use then led to an increase social engagement.

Real life stories show pressures from social media can lead to anxiety 

College students who engage in social media are more likely to develop anxiety because students try to present the "perfect image" of themselves on social media; leading to others feeling left out. The false image people post on social media leads to students comparing their lives and makes it seem like others are happier than they are. This is the case for Lily Osman, a student at Franklin and Marshall college, who felt left out when looking at social media, “Social media is a really easy way to feel excluded," Osman said. "Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat make me hyper-aware of the activities I wasn’t invited to partake in, and less involved in the activities that are actually in front of me.” With social media, students are reminded daily on what they are missing out on. In the case of Osman, seeing what she was missing out on led to her skipping the activities she knew about. 

Compared to the study, this student's story can relate to the results presented. Even though Osman felt left out after viewing social media, she still continues to use these websites. Whenever she felt a "need to belong," she would go onto social media to see what other students were doing, but this led to her feeling anxious about her life and social engagement compared to others. Her story differs from the study because Osman's social media use did not lead to an increase in social engagement, but a decrease.

The study does not present an overall view of students due to lack of age and gender diversity

Students in communication classes at Southeastern universities in the United States had the ability to complete the survey. Of the 446 students who took the survey, 71 percent of the students were females. This means that the results would more likely show female college students and how a "need to belong" for females affects messaging on smartphones and social media. Instead of having an open survey for any students in communication classes, the researchers should have focused on certain classes or tried to have a better balance of males and females.

The study also did not include a diverse age group. While the study included students between the age of 18 and 25, the average age of college students who completed the study was 19 years old. One reason the average age could be low is because freshmen and sophomores are more likely to be in introductory communication courses that are a requirement of the university. This means the results shown are less likely to depict the messaging activities of older college students.

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