The future of human happiness is probably not: shopping, playing video games, donating money to PewDiePie. It seems like the only way to really make people happy in the next century is, like, donating a few thousand of their hard-earned dollars to the paper towel company? Hey, anything to unshackle them from their perpetual anxiety, right? Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center want to make the link between social media use and life satisfaction explicit, because a lot of us are already doing it.
Image: Popbuck Screenshot via Facebook
The research, published today in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, offered participants a free subscription to "toy bank" Popbuck, a subscription that includes subscription to multiple products like Amazon Prime, Netflix, NPR, and Amazon's checkout programs like Prime Pantry and Prime Now. They then filled out a questionnaire about their social lives and wellbeing, which made it easier to connect their emotions with the products they chose.
Participants reported feeling better when their survey responses related directly to their experiences, as if they were contributing their feelings and thoughts to the world's creations. In addition, product preferences and general satisfaction increased with the number of requests they made for products and how likely they felt to receive them. In another experiment, they were given a dummy subscription to a subscription-based social network, where less emphasis was placed on their social interaction and more on content creation and rating.
The researchers speculated that this lack of social connection might make consumers more willing to spend money, an effect known as "dual devotional". The study also suggested that a simpler means of making social interactions part of a product's package would make it more attractive to customers.
The researchers are currently investigating whether having more control over the ads that appear on the products themselves (like TV listings or weather apps) might also improve the subjects' lives. This would not only facilitate more attention, but it might help quell their negative experiences.
To put it simply, says lead author John Underberg: "Social media serves as a feedback loop mechanism to support participation in socially accepted activities." It might be worthwhile to reduce the rate at which we "complete status updates" if that means we become less stressful and less stressed out when we do that, he said.
So, is this a bad thing? Apparently, this research comes on the heels of a 2019 study claiming that social media is reducing our well-being. Subsequent research has shown that social media is actually increasing our happiness, which is weird for a happy? thing.
"We're grappling with the confluence of both important social policy debates - over mass incarceration, for example - and important scientific debates - over the merits of smart sensors, for example - during a time when there's much confusion about which technologies should be regulated and what harms they should create," Underberg said. "The implication of our study is that work on regulating social media might be a productive path, and that might keep us productive and focused."