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Thread: Social media, adolescents' mental health and "significance"

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    Social media, adolescents' mental health and "significance"

    I fine example of the unhelpful confusion between statistical and real-world significance appeared in a little New Scientist report this week. The very brief story went as follows:
    Girls aged 13 and 14 who use social media frequently tend to be less happy and more anxious than those who use it less. But taking into account sleep, physical activity and cyberbullying, the effect of frequent social media use was found to be insignificant.
    A post on the New Scientist blog gives more information, but also seems to buy into the idea that "social media" just isn't the problem - it's sleep loss, lack of exercise and cyberbullying that cause the mental health issues: "Lack of sleep is more of a problem for teen girls than social media".
    But that's not what the original article said, or found: Roles of cyberbullying, sleep, and physical activity in mediating the effects of social media use on mental health and wellbeing among young people in England: a secondary analysis of longitudinal data

    It's a follow-up to a study that showed an association between frequency of social media use and mental health problems, and attempts to tease out what mediates the linkage. So there's a cluster of cyberbullying, disturbed sleep, reduced physical activity and frequent social media use that correlates with mental health issues. In a particular group of girls, if you look at three of this cluster you don't need the fourth to account statistically for the observed correlation. (In boys, you need the fourth, too.) That doesn't render social media "insignificant", except in a statistical sense - there's undoubtedly a complicated web of relationships within this cluster, as well as with mental health.

    Grant Hutchison

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    I think I'm agreeing... It's true that "significant" has the two different meanings, and it sometimes creates misunderstanding. But I kind of object to using "insignificant" as equivalent to "lacking statistical significance." I would say "not significant" or "non-significant."

    In addition, though it's not a clear cause and effect, but it seems to me that there is probably a correlation between using social media a lot and having a lack of sleep... Of course, they might have a lack of sleep because they are doing too much homework, but certainly social media is one cause of a lack of sleep.
    As above, so below

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    When I was that age, it was watching more TV.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I think I'm agreeing... It's true that "significant" has the two different meanings, and it sometimes creates misunderstanding. But I kind of object to using "insignificant" as equivalent to "lacking statistical significance." I would say "not significant" or "non-significant."

    In addition, though it's not a clear cause and effect, but it seems to me that there is probably a correlation between using social media a lot and having a lack of sleep... Of course, they might have a lack of sleep because they are doing too much homework, but certainly social media is one cause of a lack of sleep.
    And, from practical if not personal experience, cyberbullying is a cause of loss of sleep, because it makes some people obsessively check their social media long into the night, and then lie worrying about it for the rest of the night. And of course, there's a pretty complicated relationship between the amount of time alloted to social media and physical activity in adolescents' lives - social media can promote and facilitate group activity while undermining individual activity, for instance.
    The problem is really that the New Scientist authors and commentators appear to think these things are independent variables, whereas they're interdependent in a complicated way. (Much more complicated than the association between cigarette smoking and coffee drinking, for instance, which for a while made people think that coffee was a risk factor for lung cancer.)

    Grant Hutchison

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    And in "correlation is not causation," if I'm awake anyway because of my insomnia, one of the things I'll do is check social media, because it's more interesting than lying there in the dark, doing nothing--even if that would probably be more likely to let me sleep. If you've been lying there in the dark, doing nothing, and you still aren't asleep, you're less worried about whether something is conducive to sleep or not.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    And in "correlation is not causation," if I'm awake anyway because of my insomnia, one of the things I'll do is check social media, because it's more interesting than lying there in the dark, doing nothing--even if that would probably be more likely to let me sleep. If you've been lying there in the dark, doing nothing, and you still aren't asleep, you're less worried about whether something is conducive to sleep or not.
    And we can reverse the causal arrow and point out that checking a screen shortly before trying to go to sleep is a good way to prevent yourself getting to sleep.
    Somewhere there must be some epidemiology on pre-sleep reading habits and insomnia. A paper book read in bed by incandescent light used to be a recipe for prompt unconsciousness in many people, but it must be becoming a fairly rare habit. I pretty much never have trouble sleeping, now that people have stopped phoning me in the middle of the night, but on the very rare occasions that happens I always read a paper book with a warm LED light, to protect my melatonin levels.

    Grant Hutchison

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    How about the prevalence of smart phone addiction?

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    And we can reverse the causal arrow and point out that checking a screen shortly before trying to go to sleep is a good way to prevent yourself getting to sleep.
    Somewhere there must be some epidemiology on pre-sleep reading habits and insomnia. A paper book read in bed by incandescent light used to be a recipe for prompt unconsciousness in many people, but it must be becoming a fairly rare habit. I pretty much never have trouble sleeping, now that people have stopped phoning me in the middle of the night, but on the very rare occasions that happens I always read a paper book with a warm LED light, to protect my melatonin levels.
    I do have trouble sleeping, pretty often, and reading doesn't put me to sleep. I just stay awake reading, unable to fall asleep then, either.
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    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    How about the prevalence of smart phone addiction?
    There's a scale for it, so that's at least halfway to being a thing.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Somewhere there must be some epidemiology on pre-sleep reading habits and insomnia.
    I'm not turning up any decent epidemiology - potential problems with using historical controls, or significant confounders such as age.
    There have been a couple of interesting small "laboratory" studies, one comparing screen and book, and one comparing standard blue screens with warmer screens wavelengths, both showing the results you might expect given the effect of blue light on melatonin, but both open to criticism - the first because its participants were not exposed to common daytime light levels, the second because of the brightness of the screens used.

    Grant Hutchison

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    And an interesting bit of epidemiology from 2007, in the days when people used their phones only for calls and texts. Even then, more than 60% of adolescents were sending messages after "lights out", and reporting a dose-related level of daytime tiredness.

    I love the ideas of "ringing" and "bombing", to send messages without incurring a charge. You try and tell the young people today that, and they won't believe you.

    Grant Hutchison

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