SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Social media, a thing meant to connect us to the world, may actually increase our feelings of loneliness. 

A 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania found that frequent users of social media can actually make us feel more lonely because it can make a person feel envious or have what is described as FOMO (fear of missing out). 

“It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely,” said Psychologist Melissa G. Hunt to PennToday. She published her findings in the December Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. “Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.”

Hunt found in her study that once a user reduced their social media usage they felt less lonely and isolated. 

Hunt’s study focused on the big giants: Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, so it’s still not clear if these negative feelings happen on even more social media platforms. However, with Instagram stealing Reels from TikTok and TikTok replacing Vine and Twitter ripping off Instagram stories, and more, it feels like all social media platforms are becoming the same, which would mean each one, at least eventually, could harbor the same increased loneliness and depression. 

Fear of missing out isn’t the only cause for negative emotions. Social media gets individuals addicted by their quick reward mechanisms from dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical in our brains. Where a person may have once received a boost of dopamine from perfecting their favorite recipe or passing a particularly hard class, now they’re getting it through social media. And that feeling gets addictive. 

“When the outcome is unpredictable, the behavior is more likely to repeat. Think of a slot machine: if game players knew they never were going to get money by playing the game, then they never would play,” said Jacqueline Sperling, PhD, a psychologist at McLean Hospital in an interview with the McLean Harvard Medical School Affiliate. 

Hunt advises lowering your usage of social media to feel better, but if it feels impossible, consider why you’re on social media. While it can be addictive, the addiction may have started from something like boredom or loneliness. Rather than just falling back into habits of scrolling through social media, step outside, call or message a friend, or read a book.

Habits are hard to break from, but they’re not impossible. It just takes practice, and you’ll feel better for it.