Media: Does it Cause Social Withdrawal?

3035660201_d2478b7068_bDoes a night at home binge-watching a Netflix series, constantly refreshing your Facebook feed, or trying to advance to the next level of your video game affect your social prowess?  A recent study argues that media choices can affect the likelihood of experiencing social withdrawal.

BYU‘s Drs. Larry Nelson and Sarah Coyne , of the School of Family Life, recently published a study entitled “Withdrawing to a Virtual World: Associations between Subtypes of Withdrawal, Media Use, and Maladjustment in Emerging Adults” in the journal Developmental Psychology.  Their research shows that media could have a direct impact on social withdrawal, depending on the type of withdrawal and media being considered.

Coyne, Sarah
Dr. Sarah Coyne

For this study, researchers distributed an online survey to over 200 undergraduate students at two universities in the United States.  After taking the initial survey, participating students were then given another survey a year later and the results were compared.

The Study

While there has been substantial research published about the effects of media on social withdrawal, Coyne’s study proves unique in that existing work:

  1. examines shyness as an “umbrella category,” rather than multiple forms of withdrawal
  2. has a lack of specificity regarding the types of media use and the breadth of outcome variables being examined
  3. focuses primarily on childhood and adolescence

In the study, Coyne explained, “No empirical work with emerging adults has examined

Nelson, Larry2.jpg
Dr. Larry Nelson

how subtypes of social withdrawal might be related to various forms of media use and how that media use might be related to the stability of withdrawal and its associations with indices of adjustment or maladjustment over time.”

Because of this lack of research, Coyne’s work divided “social withdrawal” into three categories: shyness, unsociability, and avoidance.  It also designated a difference between problematic media (violent video games,  online gambling, pornography) vs. connective media (email, social networking) and internalizing problems (depression) vs. externalizing (illegal drug use, shoplifting).

The Findings

By making these distinctions from former research, the team was able to come forth with new information.  They found that:

  1. all withdrawn individuals, regardless of the subtype, used email more frequently than their non-withdrawn peers
  2. the avoidant group played substantially more video games and violent video games, gambled (online), and viewed more pornography than the other withdrawn individuals
  3. there is evidence of stability of social withdrawal in emerging adults
  4. problematic media has a role in mediating the link between avoidance and externalizing problems in emerging adulthood

3936927326_bbabb1a21d_bWhat’s the impact?

The research team explained that their findings “may serve as a warning about the mounting problems that might accrue the longer emerging adults engage in shy and avoidant behaviors.”  They suggest that “problematic media not only leads to increases in shy and unsociable behaviors, but also to higher levels of [negative] externalizing behaviors.”

In addition, “there may be reason for concern for [avoidant] individuals in the third decade of life because higher levels of problematic media use appear to be linked to higher levels of externalizing behaviors.”

Better understanding these findings could impact the way that researchers continue to study the negative effects of media on social behavior and how individuals personally choose to engage in potentially harmful media use.

Photos courtesy of Flickr.



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