A new paper with two of my PhD students, Weixu Lu and Inyoung Shin, is now in print. This paper on the relationship between use of digital technologies (i.e., social media, internet use, Facebook, mobile phones) and social and psychological stress expands on a report we released with the Pew Research Center.
This research explores the relationship between the use of digital media and stress. Based on the findings of a national, probability sample of adults in the United States, the use of digital media was not directly associated with higher levels of psychological stress. Some uses of digital media were associated with lower levels of perceived stress for women but not for men. However, the evidence suggests that, for men and women, digital media provides heightened awareness of network life events (AoNLE) in the lives of both close and more distant acquaintances. An awareness of undesirable, major life events in the lives of others can be a source of psychological stress; this is the cost of caring. Thus, the link between digital media and stress is indirect. We argue that the growth of digital media is related to changes in the structure of peoples’ personal communities that contribute to this trend. There has been a shift toward networks that offer persistent contact and pervasive awareness. Findings suggest that different mobile technologies, Internet technologies, and social media afford AoNLE for men and women, but women tend to report greater psychological stress than men, and they experience psychological stress from a wider range of AoNLE. We discuss explanations for the negative relationship between technology use and stress for women, as well as the implications of our findings for research on the use of digital media and psychological well-being, such as the relationship to social support, narcissism and empathy.
Inyoung Shin and I are now expanding on this work, creating a more expansive and parsimonious measure for awareness of network life events, and we are exploring other outcome measures.