Benefits of Digital Life Outweigh Stress

Benefits of Digital Life Outweigh StressBenefits of Digital Life Outweigh Stress

A new study by researchers at the US Pew Research Center and Rutgers University found that frequent Internet and social-media users do not have higher stress levels than those who use technology less often. And for women, using certain digital tools decreases stress.

“The fear of missing out and jealousy of high-living friends with better vacations and happier kids than everybody else turned out to be not true,” said Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science and technology research at Pew and an author of the study.

The exception was when Facebook users saw news of close friends going through stressful events like unemployment or illness.

Then why do we keep hearing that technology is harmful? Fear of technology is nothing new. Telephones, watches and televisions were similarly believed to interrupt people’s lives and pressure them to be more productive. In some ways they did, but the benefits offset the stressors. New technology is making our lives different, but not necessarily more stressful than they would have been otherwise, reports

“It’s yet another example of how we overestimate the effect these technologies are having in our lives,” said Keith Hampton, a sociologist at Rutgers and an author of the study.

Researchers are in the early stages of determining the effects of technology use on our brains. Some say it can increase anxiety and impatience and decrease the ability to focus, learn and remember. Others have found that it increases trust, social support and close relationships. Most likely it does both, depending on how people use it.

 Coping Mechanism

The Pew and Rutgers researchers measured stress levels and found no effect among technology users overall. And women, who frequently use Twitter, email and photo-sharing apps scored 21 percent lower on the stress scale than those who did not.

That could be because sharing life events enhances well-being, social scientists say, and women tend to do it more than men both online and off. Technology seems to provide “a low-demand and easily accessible coping mechanism that is not experienced or taken advantage of by men,” the report said.

Social media, particularly Facebook, increased stress in one way: by making people more aware of trauma in the lives of close friends. This effect was strongest for women. The finding bolsters the notion that stress can be contagious, the researchers said.

But when such users of social media were exposed to stressful events in the lives of people who were not close friends, the users reported lower stress levels. Researchers said that was perhaps attributable to gratitude for their own lives being free of these stressors.