For a needed mood boost, skip social media and strike up an in-person conversation with someone instead.
Face-to-face socializing boosts mood more than screen time, a new study finds.
People often expect that will be the case, but they don’t always follow that instinct, according to the researchers.
“These findings suggest that people may use their smartphones because they enable them to escape the unpleasant experience of being alone, or because they do not recognize or prioritize the mood benefits of social interaction,” the study authors wrote in the report published online recently in the Journal of Social Psychology.
“We were interested in getting a sense of how people compare their options, both in terms of how they expect to feel and then how they actually feel after doing these things,” lead author Christina Leckfor, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia in Athens, said in a university news release.
For the study, the researchers divided participants into four groups.
Two groups predicted how they would feel about different actions, and two groups completed the assigned actions.
All of the groups then ranked options from most to least enjoyable. They also used a scale to rate how likely they were to experience a positive or negative emotion from a task.
When given three options — using a smartphone, sitting alone or talking to a stranger — that conversation held the highest positive emotional value in both groups.
That was followed by using a smartphone and then sitting alone.
This changed as more options were added.
Participants were given specific smartphone tasks, including watching videos, scrolling social media or texting, and other tasks, including talking or sitting quietly. They said what they would enjoy most, in descending order, was watching videos, talking to a stranger, using social media, texting and sitting alone.
The study participants had a higher mood boost after talking to a stranger, even if they said they would prefer using their smartphone.
“It surprised us that even though participants reported an improved mood after talking to a stranger, they still ranked texting above talking to a stranger,” Leckfor said. “This could mean that people don’t always recognize the potential benefits of a conversation, or they’re not prioritizing that information. It also shows that just experiencing something as enjoyable isn’t always enough to get us to want to do it.”
That the sitting alone option always came in last suggests that participants would prefer an activity or escape compared to solitude, Leckfor said. Yet it could also be a reflection of the fact that the sitting alone was forced.
“Each study participant was instructed to spend that time alone,” Leckfor said. “They didn’t have a choice. Some previous research shows that when people have a choice, and freely choose to spend time in solitude, they enjoy it more than when it’s forced upon them.”
The study suggests it’s important to think about how you can spend your time before just picking up a smartphone.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on social connectedness.
SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, Sept. 12, 2023