Does spending time on social media affect how much you socialize in real life?
In fact, there are two new studies — which were both led by Jeffrey Hall, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence — that dispel "social displacement theory."
Social displacement theory basically states that the more time you spend in the world of social media, the less time you're likely to spend socializing with people in the real world.
This applies to both passive use of social media (such as mindless scrolling at a house party) and active interaction (such as living for those little green circles that appear next to the names of your Facebook friends.)
The social displacement theory also states that such a decrease in social interaction will make you miserable — or, to use scientific language, "lead to a decrease in your well-being."
So, Hall and his team tested these ideas and published their findings in the journal Information, Communication & Society.
Two studies, one conclusion
In "Study 1," Hall and his colleagues used data collected from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth between 2009 and 2011.
They investigated whether or not there was a link between social media use and "direct" social contact, which is defined as getting out of the house, hanging out with friends, talking on the phone, or partaking in any form of group activity, bar religious ones.
As Hall explains, those examined pertained to the so-called Generation X, and "the questions about social media use were asked right when Facebook was hitting its inflection point of adoption, and the main adopters in that period were Gen Xers."
"What was interesting," he adds, "was that, during a time of really rapid adoption of social media, and really powerful changes in use, you didn't see sudden declines in people's direct social contact."
"If the social displacement theory is correct, people should get out less and make fewer of those phone calls, and that just wasn't the case."
In "Study 2," the team quizzed 116 people about their social media use and direct social contact five times per day for 5 days in a row. Here, the findings from the previous study were confirmed.
"Social media users were not experiencing social displacement," explains Hall. "If they used social media earlier in the day, they were not more likely to be alone later."
Debunking a stubborn myth
Hall notes that his is not the first study to have questioned the social displacement theory. But despite such efforts to debunk it, the myth that more time on social media means less time socializing in real life seems to persist.
"I'm trying to push back on the popular conception of how this works," he says. "That's not to say overuse of social media is good, but it's not bad in the way people think it is."
Instead, what Hall suspects happened is that social media merely displaced other ways of getting one's information, such as traditional newspapers or even browsing the Internet.
However, he notes that this is a topic for another study. For now, the team's findings help us to view the popular theory with some suspicion.