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Exploring the impact of priming on young adults' mental health and social media use


The relationship between social media use and mental health has long puzzled communication and psychology scholars. There have been attempts to explain their relationship (e.g., examining the effects of different social media activities and employing novel measurement strategies). This project adds to the literature by testing priming effects in the context of social media research and advocates for the meaningfulness of measurement strategies by showing how self-reported mental health is subject to survey structure and language. We collected data from participants for three experimental studies (n=571, n=581, and n=656, respectively). Our results demonstrated that presenting the addiction scale first in the survey elicited higher self-reported depression than other conditions placing the depression scale first, but the order of the addiction scale did not alter participants' perceived self-esteem. Notably, results also indicate that the wording of questionnaire items can affect participants' mental health, such that participants in conditions where mental health scales contained mixed wording (i.e., a scale that contains positive and negative descriptions designed to measure the same construct), tended to report lower self-esteem and depression. Furthermore, our results imply that reading an article focusing on the pros of social media resulted in higher self-esteem and lower depression than reading an article highlighting the cons of social media. These findings have implications for future research germane to how social media impacts our mental health.

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