Graduate Student Researches Perceptions of Social Media

Katherine Brushaber-Drockton, SPAR grant recipient, researched how social media associates depression and anxiety In young people

| Author: Kendall Weishaupt | Media Contact: Kara Owens

Clinical psychology graduate student Katherine Brushaber-Drockton received a Summer Program for Arts & Research (SPAR) Grant and researched perceptions of social media realism and internalizing symptoms. Her research is centered around youth's perception of how much social media content reflects reality and whether there is a relationship between hours spent on social media and symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Brushaber-Drockton used pre-existing data on how often young people use social media, their symptoms of depression and anxiety, and their perception of the content they are consuming. She found a relationship between the hours spent on social media and symptoms of depression. The more hours spent on social media, the higher the symptoms of depression. However, she found no relationship between hours spent on social media and symptoms of anxiety. 

She also found that gender plays a large role in the relationship between anxiety and depression symptoms. Gender non-conforming participants had the highest symptoms of depression and anxiety, girls were next on the list, and then boys. How youth perceive social media content, “social media realism” as Brushaber-Drockton calls it in this study, does not play a role in the relationship between hours of social media use and depression or anxiety symptoms.  

Brushaber-Drockton hopes her research allows young people to better understand what they are engaging with on social media and the idea of “social media realism.” Understanding how different types of content may impact our well-being is important. How young people engage with social media appears to matter more than simply the number of hours of use.  

Studies show the negative outcomes of social media, but the positive outcomes can be overlooked. Positives of social media include communication with others outside peoples’ homes during the COVID-19 pandemic; social media can also help facilitate social connectedness among individuals who feel isolated in their community.  Brushaber-Drockton wants to show the general public how social media use could be used in ways to promote well-being, and how to make it safe for young people to positively engage. 

She also hopes that her study will allow people to learn when a young person is expressing a need for help. Brushaber-Drockton was inspired to conduct this research because she is interested in access to mental health care, health care, and education in rural areas. Social media is now accessible everywhere, and it can be beneficial to spread correct positive information that can help those who may not otherwise have access to these resources. However, social media can also have negative impacts, and she wants to make sure young people understand what they consume online. 

Her research was conducted over the summer of 2023, and she hopes to continue disseminating this information. She also hopes to continue research as a career, and her goal is to make research more accessible to the general public. This research will be showcased next year at SCREE.  

This story is brought to you by the  Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

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