Psychology Professors Show Benefits of Social Media Fast in Recently Published Article

Tomi-Ann Roberts, professor of psychology, and Jason Weaver, associate professor of psychology and Asian Studies, had an article on the benefits of a short-term social media fast among pre-teen and teen dancers published in the Elsevier ScienceDirect Journal, Body Image. The article, entitled, “‘Intermission!’ A short-term social media fast reduces self-objectification among pre-teen and teen dancers,” found that when girls took three days away from social media, their body image and self-compassion improved.

Sixty-five girls between the ages of 10 and 19 rated measures of self-objectification, self-esteem, and self-compassion both prior to and following three days of abstaining from all social media. As part of the study, the girls participated in a group chat during the social media fast, where they reflected on their experiences. The messages showed that the girls had more positive mental states during the fast.

Jason Weaver"For me, the most exciting part of the findings is how little intervention it takes to get fairly large effects. Folks are often pretty invested in their social media presence, and even if they want to walk away from it, that decision can feel really big. What will they miss out on? But we found that you don't have to quit social media to have a big impact on your well-being,” says Weaver. “Just suspend your accounts for a long weekend, and see how you feel. Even if you do decide to open them up again after a few days, you will likely feel better about yourself after taking that break."

The article cited a 2019 study which found that on average, adolescent girls in the United States spend over two hours and 15 minutes a day on social media. The study also stated that 63% of U.S. teens report checking social media sites every day.

Tomi-Ann Roberts“As the college begins to address the very real crisis in student mental health, I think it’s important to consider the negative impact of the hours young people spend engaging through their devices with social media. We found that just three days of fasting led pre-teen and teen girls to experience significant body image improvements, and this boost came via increases in their self-compassion. Engaging with TikTok and Instagram can feel like a compulsion – and that’s what these platforms are designed for,” says Roberts. “Let’s imagine creative ways here at CC to support and enable one another to take breaks from our screens and enjoy one another’s company. Consider this: one great benefit of the Block Plan is that we get to be in small, collaborative class with peers for three hours a day. That’s three hours of non-online social media engagement! Our data suggest this is a win-win. Students not only learn class material, they experience face to face socioemotional, embodied interaction, making meaning together - and this is good for mental health.”

In addition to Roberts and Weaver, the article was co-authored by Leslie Scott Zanovitch, professional dancer, founder of Youth Protection Advocates in Dance, and president of Non Profit Education and Advocacy for the Movement Arts and Elizabeth Daniels, associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

The girls in the study were recruited from seven dance studios and conventions who participated in dance classes run by Zanovitch between 2016 and 2018. The study comes at a time where we are seeing unprecedented levels of mental health concerns and crises among children, teenagers, and adults.

In September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $2 million to the American Academy of Pediatrics to establish the National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Mental Wellness. The center will create and circulate information, guidance, and training on the impact that social media use has on young people, particularly on their mental health.

As part of Roberts’ Feminist Psychology of Embodiment class last spring, she asked her students to track the time they spend online engaging with social media. Several students reported spending over eight hours a day on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.

Lani Aragon ’25 was a student in Roberts’ Block 8 class, and wrote a moving reflection essay entitled, “7 Hours and 54 Minutes,” where she examined her interaction with social media and its influence on her embodied self. She was inspired to write the essay when she got a notification on her phone claiming that she spent an average of seven hours and 54 minutes a day on her phone. After analyzing her social media usage, she said she realized how consumed she was by social media platforms. “I found myself comparing every physical aspect of myself to other women, destroying my own self-esteem with every scroll. My consumption of social media has negatively impacted my mental health, and, in return, has affected my relationships, my habit to go out, and the ways in which I practice self-care,” says Aragon, a psychology major.

“Tracking my social media habits made me realize how much we let a device dictate our lives. We spend so much time creating whole different worlds on social media app in an attempt to be perceived a certain way; this time could be put into so many other things that will actually improve our lives,” says Aragon. “There’s a real life to live and my own mental and physical health to care for and being consumed by social media didn’t do anything but destroy that drive to become the best version of me I could be.
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