Let's face it. Smartphones, social media, digital devices, and the Internet have transformed the way we interact socially.
For young people especially, spending time online is practically a way of life and, not surprisingly, is shaping how they view the world. Not only are they more interconnected, but they have more access to information than any previous generation. All of this has resulted in a cultural shift in the past two decades that is still unfolding.
But does this translate into greater psychological well-being? Though often defined in different ways, psychological well-being is usually measured by how satisfied people feel about their lives as well as the quality of the relationships they have with friends and family. Often viewed as synonymous with happiness or life satisfaction, research looking at psychological well-being has particularly focused on adolescents and how their sense of well-being has changed over the years.
With this in mind, a new research study published in the journal Emotion takes a comprehensive look at how psychological well-being has changed in adolescents over the past ten years and what this may mean for the future. In this study, Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University and her co-authors used data data taken from Monitoring the Future (MtF), a comprehensive survey of American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders conducted annually since 1991. Conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future surveys 50,000 8th, 10th and 12th grade students each year as well as administering follow-up questionnaires to former participants. All participants completed test items measuring self-esteem, different aspects of life satisfaction, self-satisfaction, and personal happiness. Along with demographic information, the survey data allows researchers to examine cultural changes in behaviors, attitudes, and values as they occur.
For the own research, Twenge and her colleagues focused on changes in psychological well-being as they related to the economic depression of 2007-2009 as well as the introduction of smartphones. While previous research has shown that psychological well-being has risen in adolescents during the last four decades of the previous century, more recent research has suggested that this trend is reversing, possibly due to the influence of digital media. Given that media research has already shown that smartphones became widely available beginning in 2007 with most Americans owning one by the end of 2012, the researchers selected the year 2012 as the baseline for their research.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.