1. Researchers create new tool that measures active learning in classrooms

    March 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the San Francisco State University press release:

    Researchers at San Francisco State University have developed a tool that for the first time can measure the extent to which instructors use innovative teaching methods by analyzing simple audio recordings of classroom sounds, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

    Researchers analyzed recordings of more than 1,486 sessions from 67 different courses using the tool, dubbed DART -decibel analysis for research in teaching.

    “The breakthrough here is that for the first time we can effectively and inexpensively measure the use of innovative teaching strategies that have previously been shown to produce better learning than lecture only,” said SF State Professor of Biology Kimberly Tanner, principal investigator on the study. Tanner’s research focuses on novel teaching strategies.

    “In my work, I’ve found that many faculty members want to improve their teaching, but they don’t have the tools to help them see how they’re doing,” said Tanner. “It’s like trying to lose weight without a scale — you can’t improve what you can’t measure. DART provides a simple, easy way to answer the question ‘How much of class time do I devote to engaging my students in active learning?'”

    The findings are based on a comprehensive SF State project that includes 83 community college and university instructors involved in examining and promoting innovative teaching methods.

    Tanner says DART can be used in any classroom, and at this time it’s free and can be accessed online at http://dart.sfsu.edu/. SF State researchers have secured a provisional patent for the technology and eventually plan to create an app.

    According to Tanner, traditional teaching often focuses on a lecture that’s delivered by a faculty member to a group of students. Modern educational research has shown that active learning – a term used to describe a variety of related methods where students interact with each other and engage in problem-solving activities – drives stronger learning and better educational outcomes than lecture alone.

    But widespread adoption of innovative teaching methods that foster increased learning has been slowed by the lack of a way to quantify how much they are really being used by instructors, Tanner said. For example, faculty members can overestimate how often they truly engage students. In addition, educational reform leaders and funding agencies do not currently have easy and efficient ways of monitoring if teaching changes are happening in real-world courses.

    As part of the SF State research project, faculty members affiliated with 22 colleges and universities recorded their classes, which ranged in size from 4 to 300 students, using standard audio recorders. At the same time, trained evaluators took notes about what happened in the classes and identified the various instructional methods used, including faculty lecture, small-group discussions and quiet problem solving.

    Researchers then used an optimized computer program to classify sound in the audio recordings. Using only the classroom sounds, DART could classify the audio into three categories — single voice (traditional lecture with question and answer), multiple voice (student interactive group work), or no voice (student thinking, writing or individual problem solving) — with over 90 percent accuracy, which matched the ability of the human evaluators to correctly classify the classroom environment. It wasn’t necessary for DART to classify the actual content of the recorded speech, so student and instructor privacy was protected. DART could do its work based solely on the overall level and type of noise in the classroom.

    “Although the initial research focused on biology classes, the DART method can be applied in almost any teaching situation,” said Melinda Owens, postdoctoral scholar and lecturer at SF State, one of three lead authors on the paper. “Just like a person can track their progress toward their daily steps with a fitness tracker, a faculty member could track their progress toward adopting active learning with the DART system.”

    “DART looks like a great new tool for solving the biggest outstanding question in undergraduate science education ? namely, what teaching methods are actually being used in college classrooms, and how can we routinely monitor those. Before this work, it appeared impossible to answer these critical questions,” said Nobel Prize-winning physicist and physics education researcher Carl Wieman of Stanford University. “This work now shows how to do that quite easily. I am surprised that this method is so effective at characterizing the teaching taking place, but the massive scale of the analysis and the care in which it was carried out are very convincing.”


  2. Wise deliberation sustains cooperation

    by Ashley

    From the University of Waterloo press release:

    Giving people time to think about cooperating on a task can have a positive effect if they are big-picture thinkers, but if they tend to focus on their own, immediate experience, the time to think may make them less cooperative, University of Waterloo research has found.

    A series of three experiments, conducted by University of Waterloo researchers Igor Grossmann, Justin Brienza and Romana Bobocel, also found that wise, or big-picture, thinkers were able to sustain their cooperation with others when given time to deliberate.

    “What this study tells us is that the effect of thinking time on cooperation depends on the type of deliberation people use,” says Igor Grossmann, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo and the study’s lead author.” In practical terms, people trying to get groups to cooperate, such as employers or in school settings, may really need to understand people’s deliberation styles before deciding how much time to give them for a given task.”

    The series of three studies looked at over 1,000 people with varying capacities for wise reasoning — the ability to think big picture, take an outside perspective, recognize the limits one’s own knowledge — and how well they were able to participate in cooperative tasks with others.

    Grossmann and his colleagues’ study consisted of three experiments. In experiment one, researchers measured participants’ individual differences in wise reasoning and how cooperation was impacted by time delays versus time pressure.

    In experiment two and three, the researchers manipulated the type of reasoning participants used to make decisions — either by asking participants to use third party language when making decisions or with graphics that remind people of an observer perspective.

    The study’s findings were published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.


  3. Disruptive children do not inspire similar behavior in their siblings

    by Ashley

    From the American Friends of Tel Aviv University press release:

    A new Tel Aviv University study published in Child Development finds that the disruptive behavior of an individual child does not encourage similar behavior in their brothers and sisters.

    On the contrary, Dr. Ella Daniel of TAU’s Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education finds that siblings, predominantly older siblings, of disruptive children tend to exhibit less disorderly behavior over time. The research, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Jenkins and colleagues at the University of Toronto and funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, examines the role of sibling training on disruptive behavior during early childhood and concludes that disruptive behavior produces greater disparity — rather than resemblance — among siblings.

    “The development of disruptive behavior in early childhood is extremely important, as disruptive behavior starts early in life and behavioral patterns may become stable and resistant to influence later on,” Dr. Daniel says. “We found that in early childhood, children do not learn from each other how to be disruptive, violent or disobedient.

    “In fact, they are more likely to learn what not to do, or how not to behave. The older siblings of young children who are disruptive tend to become less disruptive themselves over time, creating a polarizing effect on their behaviors.”

    Focusing on younger children

    Existing research on disruptive behavior is largely focused on adolescents. The new study harnessed data assessing the rate of disruptions as witnessed by both parents to track 916 toddlers and their preschool- and school-aged siblings in some 400 families in and around Toronto.

    The families examined had given birth to an infant between 2006 and 2008, and had at least one other child (younger than four years of age) at home. The researchers conducted observations and interviews with the family, including all the siblings in the family, every 18 months.

    The scientists collected information when the youngest child in the family was 18, 36 and 54 months old. On these three occasions, both parents reported the disruptive behaviors of each of their children. Using advanced statistical models, the researchers were able to identify the role of siblings in the development of each child’s disruptive behavior over time, taking into account heredity, parenting, social environment and shared history.

    “The study teaches us that we have little to worry about one sibling being ‘a bad influence’ on their brothers or sisters,” says Dr. Daniel. “Instead, we should be more worried of pigeon holing: that one child will be labeled as a ‘black sheep,’ and that all children in the family will develop based on pre-assigned roles. We should let each child develop his or her individuality, which naturally changes over time.”

    The researchers are currently examining the role of siblings in the development of childhood depression and anxiety.


  4. Study suggests PTSD risk can be predicted by hormone levels prior to deployment

    by Ashley

    From the UT Austin press release:

    Up to 20 percent of U.S. veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder from trauma experienced during wartime, but new neuroscience research from The University of Texas at Austin suggests some soldiers might have a hormonal predisposition to experience such stress-related disorders.

    Cortisol — the stress hormone — is released as part of the body’s flight-or-fight response to life-threatening emergencies. Seminal research in the 1980s connected abnormal cortisol levels to an increased risk for PTSD, but three decades of subsequent research produced a mixed bag of findings, dampening enthusiasm for the role of cortisol as a primary cause of PTSD.

    However, new findings published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology point to cortisol’s critical role in the emergence of PTSD, but only when levels of testosterone — one of most important of the male sex hormones — are suppressed, researchers said.

    “Recent evidence points to testosterone’s suppression of cortisol activity, and vice versa. It is becoming clear to many researchers that you can’t understand the effects of one without simultaneously monitoring the activity of the other,” said UT Austin professor of psychology Robert Josephs, the first author of the study. “Prior attempts to link PTSD to cortisol may have failed because the powerful effect that testosterone has on the hormonal regulation of stress was not taken into account.”

    UT Austin researchers used hormone data obtained from saliva samples of 120 U.S. soldiers before deployment and tracked their monthly combat experiences in Iraq to examine the effects of traumatic war-zone stressors and PTSD symptoms over time.

    Before deployment, soldiers’ stress responses were tested in a stressful CO2 inhalation challenge. “Healthy stress responses showed a strong cortisol increase in response to the stressor, whereas abnormal stress responses showed a blunted, nonresponsive change in cortisol,” Josephs said.

    The researchers found that soldiers who had an abnormal cortisol response to the CO2 inhalation challenge were more likely to develop PTSD from war-zone stress. However, soldiers who had an elevated testosterone response to the CO2 inhalation challenge were not likely to develop PTSD, regardless of the soldiers’ cortisol response.

    “The means through which hormones contribute to the development of PTSD and other forms of stress-related mental illness are complex,” said Adam Cobb, a UT Austin clinical psychology doctoral candidate and co-author of the study. “Advancement in this area must involve examining how hormones function together, and with other psychobiological systems, in response to ever-changing environmental demands.”

    Knowing this, the scientists suggest future research could investigate the efficacy of preventative interventions targeting those with at-risk profiles of hormone stress reactivity. “We are still analyzing more data from this project, which we hope will reveal additional insights into risk for combat-related stress disorders and ultimately how to prevent them,” said Michael Telch, clinical psychology professor and corresponding author of the study.


  5. How to fit in when you stand out: Don’t try so hard

    March 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham Young University press release:

    When in Rome you do as the Romans do, right? Not necessarily. When it comes to fitting in with foreign cultures, “just be yourself” might be the more appropriate mantra, according to Brigham Young University professor Stephen Moody.

    Looking at language specifically, Moody’s research shows that you don’t have to speak like a native to be accepted by natives; in fact, trying too hard to fit in might just set you back. Instead, he found, you can actually use your status as a foreigner to advance yourself socially or professionally.

    “A lot of language teaching focuses on doing things according to local conventions,” said Moody, a professor of Asian and Near Eastern Languages. “Our research kind of challenges the idea that this is always necessary by noticing that there are times when a visiting foreigner is not expected to follow conventions and, in such situations, following conventions too closely can actually be seen as unusual.”

    For the research, published in Applied Linguistics, Moody tracked American students interning at Japanese firms, analyzing how they used formalities of Japanese language to assimilate — or not — into their workplace culture.

    Honorifics, elements of Japanese used to convey politeness and formality, help construct identity, establish roles and define social relationships. By analyzing this specific aspect of the language, Moody was able to identify what does and doesn’t work when it comes to fitting in.

    The biggest takeaway? Regardless of how well you speak, there are still circumstances where you will be seen as a foreigner. Don’t resent it; accept it and use it.

    “It’s not always about whether or not you’re using the language correctly, but if you’re comfortable being who you are,” Moody said. “If you try to fit into the local convention so much that you step away from who you are, you’re not going to fit in as well, even if you’re using the language ‘correctly.'”

    One group of interns, he said, was so determined to “become Japanese” that they overused honorifics to the point of unnatural politeness.

    “It would be like someone coming in and saying, ‘Um, excuse me, I’m sorry, could I perhaps impinge on your time for a brief moment?'” Moody said. “If you’re talking like that all the time it’s a little too much.”

    Another group of interns was all business; they used honorifics appropriately and could maneuver through the professional world effectively, but they were stiff and formal and continually seen as outsiders on a social level.

    In contrast, one intern intentionally used the language incorrectly — but with positive results. “He went in and just played up the fact that he’s a foreigner,” Moody said.

    According to Moody, this intern used exaggerated honorifics to play the role of goofy foreigner. His ironic and playful humor allowed everyone to laugh and connect on a more personal level, and his boss told Moody, “He’s one of us; he fits right in.”

    Different situations will call for different approaches to assimilating into a foreign culture, but Moody hopes that this research will provide insight into understanding the context-specific challenges of being in a foreign workplace.

    At BYU, which recently ranked 30th for global university employability, approximately 65 percent of students speak a second language. And, said Moody, “The role that language plays in facilitating relationships in the workplace is becoming more important. As more cultures combine in the workplace, employees are going to have to relate across cultures and build relationships.”


  6. New Milgram experiment suggests people still obey

    by Ashley

    From the Society for Personality and Social Psychology press release:

    The title is direct, “Would you deliver an electric shock in 2015?” and the answer, according to the results of this replication study, is yes. Social psychologists from SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland replicated a modern version of the Milgram experiment and found results similar to studies conducted 50 years earlier.

    The research appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

    “Our objective was to examine how high a level of obedience we would encounter among residents of Poland,” write the authors. “It should be emphasized that tests in the Milgram paradigm have never been conducted in Central Europe. The unique history of the countries in the region made the issue of obedience towards authority seem exceptionally interesting to us.”

    For those unfamiliar with the Milgram experiment, it tested people’s willingness to deliverer electric shocks to another person when encouraged by an experimenter. While no shocks were actually delivered in any of the experiments, the participants believed them to be real. The Milgram experiments demonstrated that under certain conditions of pressure from authority, people are willing to carry out commands even when it may harm someone else.

    “Upon learning about Milgram’s experiments, a vast majority of people claim that ‘I would never behave in such a manner,’ says Tomasz Grzyb, a social psychologist involved in the research. “Our study has, yet again, illustrated the tremendous power of the situation the subjects are confronted with and how easily they can agree to things which they find unpleasant.”

    While ethical considerations prevented a full replication of the experiments, researchers created a similar set-up with lower “shock” levels to test the level of obedience of participants.

    The researchers recruited 80 participants (40 men and 40 women), with an age range from 18 to 69, for the study. Participants had up to 10 buttons to press, each a higher “shock” level. The results show that the level of participants’ obedience towards instructions is similarly high to that of the original Milgram studies.

    They found that 90% of the people were willing to go to the highest level in the experiment. In terms of differences between peoples willingness to deliver shock to a man versus a woman, “It is worth remarking,” write the authors, “that although the number of people refusing to carry out the commands of the experimenter was three times greater when the student [the person receiving the “shock”] was a woman, the small sample size does not allow us to draw strong conclusions.”

    In terms of how society has changed, Grzyb notes, “half a century after Milgram’s original research into obedience to authority, a striking majority of subjects are still willing to electrocute a helpless individual.”


  7. Rethinking the use of warnings with transcript and video evidence in trials

    by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    New research from the University of Liverpool examining the impact multiple forms of evidence has on juror perceptions during criminal trials has found the use of video material could be detrimental without the use of a judicial warning.

    Currently during criminal trials transcripts of audio recordings played during a trial may be provided to the jury to help them understand what is said in the recording.

    The decision to furnish jurors with copies of a transcript to assist them in listening to the audio recording is subject to the sound discretion of the trial judge.

    Judicial warnings

    In one case, according to the Court of Appeal in England and Wales, there had been no exceptional circumstances that justified a jury retiring with a transcript of the complainant’s interview.

    Research, led by Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, examined the impact multiple evidence forms and use of a judicial warning has on juror evaluations of a witness.

    Judicial warnings focus juror attention on placing disproportionate weight on the evidence as opposed to their general impression of it.

    Perceptions of witness

    As part of the study sixty jury eligible adult participants were recruited from the general population, and across a range of occupations. The overall sample consisted of 20 males and 40 females aged between 18 and 55 years.

    They were presented with witness evidence in transcript, video, or transcript plus video format. Half the participants in each condition received the warning.

    All mock jurors completed a questionnaire which assessed perceptions of witness and task.

    Outcomes showed that transcript plus video evidence, when accompanied by a warning, did impact on mock jurors’ global assessments of the witness. The warning reduced ratings of witness reliability and how satisfactory the witness was deemed to be. The warning also made the task less clear for jurors and, in the video condition alone, led to higher ratings of how satisfactory and reliable the witness was.

    Findings support the provision of a judicial warning to jurors when video material is used and show some initial support for judiciary opposition to the provision of an additional transcript only when jurors are asked to make the more usual global witness assessments.

    The study has been published in The Journal of Psychology.

    Warnings needed in some circumstances

    Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft, said: “The study showed mock jurors’ global assessments of a witness were significantly affected by the presentation of transcript + video evidence in conjunction with a judicial warning.

    “The findings also emphasize the importance of providing jurors with a warning should video evidence be presented alone.”

    “Finally, the judiciary might develop warnings to encourage jurors to consider how satisfactory and/or reliable they find witnesses.”


  8. New study links opioid epidemic to childhood emotional abuse

    by Ashley

    From the University of Vermont press release:

    A study by researchers at the University of Vermont has revealed a link between adult opioid misuse and childhood emotional abuse, a new finding that suggests a rethinking of treatment approaches for opioid abusers.

    To uncover the link to emotional abuse, the study, published in the current issue of Addictive Behaviors, analysed and cross referenced the results of a series of psychological tests administered to a sample of 84 individuals with a history of problem opioid use who had also suffered childhood trauma.

    Earlier research has found that a high percentage of adults who abuse substances were maltreated in a variety of ways as children. But few previous studies have investigated the causes of opioid addiction specifically, and no earlier ones narrowed the link among opioid users to emotional abuse.

    Emotional abuse was much more strongly correlated with survey participants’ problem opioid use than childhood sexual and physical abuse or other kinds of maltreatment such as neglect.

    The study found that children who had been emotionally abused were more likely to engage in rash, risky behavior in adolescence and to suffer posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as adults. Opioid use offered a refuge from PTSD for this group — while causing a host of new problems. The severity of the PTSD was directly linked to the severity of their opioid-related problems.

    “If a person is being physically or sexually abused, it’s easier to put the blame on the person doing the abuse,” said Matthew Price, assistant professor in Department of Psychological Science at the University of Vermont, and the paper’s senior author.

    “With emotional abuse, the abuser is saying ‘You are the problem.’ Being called names, being told you’re not good enough, being told no one cares about you undermines your ability to cope with difficult emotions. To protect themselves from strong emotions and from trauma cues that can bring on PTSD symptoms, people with this kind of childhood experience frequently adopt a strategy of avoidance, which can include opioid use.”

    New treatment approaches

    The findings suggest why some opioid abusers don’t respond to substance abuse counseling or PTSD treatment and point the way toward potentially more productive therapies. Drug addiction and mental health issues are often treated separately by different kinds of specialists, Price said. “Mental health counselors will frequently say, ‘Deal with your drug issues first, then come to see me.'”

    The study suggests “we should really start to explore more integrated treatment,” Price said. “If a patient has had severe emotional abuse and they have a tendency to act out when they’re feeling upset, and then they turn to opioids to deal with the resulting PTSD, it makes sense to address the emotional component and the drug problems at the same time.”

    In the study, participants were interviewed about their childhood experiences and then given a battery of psychological tests that measured the type and extent of any maltreatment they had experienced as children, the extent to which their opioid use was causing life problems, the severity of their addiction, the extent of their impulsive behavior, and the extent and severity of their PTSD.

    The researchers used a sophisticated statistical method known as structural equation modeling, or SEM, to make connections between the data sets each of the individual tests brought to light, which illuminated the pathway from childhood emotional abuse to rash adolescent behavior to PTSD to opioid abuse.


  9. To understand others’ minds, ‘being’ them beats reading them

    March 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    We tend to believe that people telegraph how they‘re feeling through facial expressions and body language and we only need to watch them to know what they’re experiencing — but new research shows we’d get a much better idea if we put ourselves in their shoes instead. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “People expected that they could infer another’s emotions by watching him or her, when in fact they were more accurate when
    they were actually in the same situation as the other person
    . And this bias persisted even after our participants gained firsthand experience with both strategies,” explain study authors Haotian Zhou (Shanghai Tech University) and Nicholas Epley (University of Chicago).

    To explore out how we go about understanding others’ minds, Zhou, Epley, and co-author Elizabeth Majka (Elmhurst College) decided to focus on two potential mechanisms: theorization and simulation. When we theorize about someone’s experience, we observe their actions and make inferences based on our observations. When we simulate someone’s experience, we use our own experience of the same situation as a guide.

    Based on previous research showing that people tend to assume that our feelings ‘leak out’ through our behavior, Zhou, Epley, and Majka hypothesized that people would overestimate the usefulness of theorizing about another person’s experience. And given that we tend to think that individual experiences are unique, the researchers also hypothesized that people would underestimate the usefulness of simulating another person’s experience.

    In one experiment, the researchers asked 12 participants to look at a series of 50 pictures that varied widely in emotional content, from very negative to positive. A webcam recorded their faces as these “experiencers” rated their emotional feelings for each picture. The researchers then brought in a separate group of 73 participants and asked them to predict the experiencers’ ratings for each picture. Some of these “predictors” simulated the experience, looking at each picture; others theorized about the experience, looking at the webcam recording of the experiencer; and a third group were able to simulate and theorize at the same time, looking at both the picture and accompanying recording.

    The results revealed that the predictors were much more accurate when they saw the pictures just as the experiencer had than they were when they saw the recording of the experiencer’s face. Interestingly, seeing both the picture and the recording simultaneously yielded no additional benefit — being able to simulate the experience seemed to underlie participants’ accuracy.

    Despite this, people didn’t seem to appreciate the benefit of simulation. In a second experiment, only about half of the predictors who were allowed to choose a strategy opted to use simulation. As before, predictors who simulated the rating experience were much more accurate in predicting the experiencer’s feelings, regardless of whether they chose that strategy or were assigned to it.

    In a third experiment, the researchers allowed for dynamic choice, assuming that predictors may increase in accuracy over time if they were able to choose their strategy before each trial. The results showed, once again, that simulation was the better strategy across the board — still, participants who had the ability to choose opted to simulate only about 48% of the time.

    A fourth experiment revealed that simulation was the better strategy even when experiencers had been told to make their reactions as expressive and “readable’ as possible.

    “Our most surprising finding was that people committed the same mistakes when trying to understand themselves,” Zhou and Epley note.

    Participants in a fifth experiment expected they would be more accurate if they got to watch the expressions they had made while looking at emotional pictures one month earlier — but the findings showed they were actually better at estimating how they had felt if they simply viewed the pictures again.

    “They dramatically overestimated how much their own face would reveal, and underestimated the accuracy they would glean from being in their own past shoes again,” the researchers explain.

    Although reading other people’s mental states is an essential part of everyday life, these experiments show that we don’t always pick the best strategy for the task.

    According to Zhou and Epley, these findings help to shed light on the tactics that people use to understand each other.

    “Only by understanding why our inferences about each other sometimes go astray can we learn how to understand each other better,” the researchers conclude.


  10. More social connection online tied to increasing feelings of isolation

    March 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences press release:

    The more time a young adult uses social media, the more likely they are to feel socially isolated, according to a national analysis led by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine scientists. In addition to the time spent online, the scientists found that frequency of use was associated with increased social isolation.

    The finding, published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggests that use of social media does not present a panacea to help reduce perceived social isolation — when a person lacks a sense of social belonging, true engagement with others and fulfilling relationships. In the past, social isolation has been independently associated with an increased risk for mortality.

    “This is an important issue to study because mental health problems and social isolation are at epidemic levels among young adults,” said lead author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences. “We are inherently social creatures, but modern life tends to compartmentalize us instead of bringing us together. While it may seem that social media presents opportunities to fill that social void, I think this study suggests that it may not be the solution people were hoping for.”

    In 2014, Primack and his colleagues sampled 1,787 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine time and frequency of social media use by asking about the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.

    The scientists measured participants’ perceived social isolation using a validated assessment tool called the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System.

    Even when the researchers controlled for a variety of social and demographic factors, participants who used social media more than two hours a day had twice the odds for perceived social isolation than their peers who spent less than half an hour on social media each day. And participants who visited various social media platforms 58 or more times per week had about triple the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week.

    We do not yet know which came first — the social media use or the perceived social isolation,” said senior author Elizabeth Miller, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at Pitt and chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “It’s possible that young adults who initially felt socially isolated turned to social media. Or it could be that their increased use of social media somehow led to feeling isolated from the real world. It also could be a combination of both. But even if the social isolation came first, it did not seem to be alleviated by spending time online, even in purportedly social situations.”

    The researchers have several theories for how increased use of social media could fuel feelings of social isolation, including:

    • Social media use displaces more authentic social experiences because the more time a person spends online, the less time there is for real-world interactions.
    • Certain characteristics of social media facilitate feelings of being excluded, such as when one sees photos of friends having fun at an event to which they were not invited.
    • Exposure to highly idealized representations of peers’ lives on social media sites may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives.

    Primack, a family medicine physician, and Miller, a pediatrician, both encourage doctors to ask patients about their social media use and counsel them in reducing that use if it seems linked to symptoms of social isolation. However, they noted, much more study is needed to understand nuances around social media use.

    “People interact with each other over social media in many different ways,” said Primack, also a professor of medicine, pediatrics, and clinical and translational science at Pitt. “In a large population-based study such as this, we report overall tendencies that may or may not apply to each individual. I don’t doubt that some people using certain platforms in specific ways may find comfort and social connectedness via social media relationships. However, the results of this study simply remind us that, on the whole, use of social media tends to be associated with increased social isolation and not decreased social isolation.”