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The pervasive use of social media has raised concerns about its potential detrimental effects on physical and mental health. Others have demonstrated a relationship between social media use and anxiety, depression, and psychosocial stress. In light of these studies, we examined physiological indicators of stress (heart rate to measure autonomic nervous system activation and cortisol to assess activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) associated with social media use and investigated possible moderating influences of sex, age, and psychological parameters. We collected physiological data from 59 subjects ranging in age from 13 to 55 across two cell phone treatments: social media use and a pre-selected YouTube playlist. Heart rate was measured using arm-band heart rate monitors before and during cell phone treatments, and saliva was collected for later cortisol analysis (by enzyme immunoassay) before and after each of the two cell phone treatments. To disentangle the effects of cell phone treatment from order of treatment, we used a crossover design in which participants were randomized to treatment order. Our study uncovered a significant period effect suggesting that both heart rate and cortisol decreased over the duration of our experiment, irrespective of the type of cell phone activity or the order of treatments. There was no indication that age, sex, habits of social media use, or psychometric parameters moderated the physiological response to cell phone activities. Our data suggest that 20-minute bouts of social media use or YouTube viewing do not elicit a physiological stress response.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.