Social media and depression

Social media and depression

News: These social media behaviors are related to major depressive disorder (MDD): individuals who are more likely to compare themselves to others better off than they are (or that they think are better off than they are; social comparison), those more bothered by being tagged in unflattering pictures, and those less likely to post pictures of themselves. “Participating in negative social media behaviors [especially on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat] is associated with a higher likelihood of having MDD.”

But, social media use is not all negative for people suffering from MDD or having depressive symptoms. “Increasing social interaction, whether face-to-face or through social media, may buffer feelings of loneliness and isolation”–feelings common to depression.

It comes down to individuals understanding the positives and the negatives and then using social media accordingly.

Go to the original sourceSocial comparisons, social media addiction, and social interaction: An examination of specific social media behaviors related to major depressive disorder in a millennial population (Anthony Robinson, et al., Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 8 January 2019).

Why don’t we do anything about climate change?

Lack of action on climate change will especially impact our children
Lack of action on climate change will especially impact our children

News: Our climate–Earth’s climate–is changing. It’s a fact, not a theory, not a guess. Overall, our climate is getting warmer; we will see fewer periods of “normal weather”, there will be longer stretches of extreme temperatures (hot and cold), longer periods of drought interspersed with sporadic episodes of torrential rain or heavy snow. Ice at the Poles is melting rapidly; sea levels are rising. We will see more frequent and more powerful storms, more and larger wildfires, more climate refugees fleeing areas that will become virtually uninhabitable. The areas of the Earth without enough fresh water will grow, large numbers of animal and plant species are declining or becoming extinct, the impacts of climate stress on people will grow including a likely increase in the number of suicides … all of this and more is happening right now and will continue. Our children, our children’s children, and future generations will pay the price of our collective inaction, greed, and folly.

So, why don’t we do something about it? Why didn’t we do something about it? There was research back in the 1970’s and 1980’s that pointed clearly at what was going to happen if we did not act. But, we–collectively–have done almost nothing.


Because, humans are strange creatures. Psychologically, “humans are naturally prone to making short-term decisions as opposed to pursuing longer-term collective interests.” Short-termism may be one of the greatest threats today to humankind. People are impacted much more by the concrete rather than the abstract. And, climate change is often presented in a very abstract way. Charts, graphs, text–it will impact us but we don’t know exactly how much and only sometime in the hazy future. In contrast, “concrete information tends to convey greater urgency, triggering the belief that we need to act now.” Concrete information is also more likely to trigger strong emotions. “And, concrete experiences can have powerful effects.”

Missouri River flooding in Iowa 2019
Missouri River flooding in Iowa 2019

For example, watching unprecedented spring flooding in the midwestern U.S. on TV or your computer from the comfort of your (dry) living room makes the event seem abstract. It’s happening over there, somewhere else; it’s not happening to me or in my town. But, having your own house flooded, your possessions destroyed, your town submerged, your life upended–that is very concrete and may cause you to move away from the river and start a new life, or at least to buy flood insurance, etc.; it may cause you to take immediate, real action.

Flood damage inside a home
Flood damage inside a home

So, what does this mean for climate change? Is there a lesson here that can assist long-term beneficial collective action to reduce, mitigate, and adapt to climate change?

Make climate change concrete, make it personal, show the impact on children, our children, especially. Make it real enough that we extend our default, selfish human self-interest from the short-term to the future, even extend it to a concern for other species … that may drive action and make us collectively more mindful of our impact on the future.

Learn more: Read the article (Paul A.M. Van Lange and Brock Bastian, Scientific American, 23 April 2019).

Politics and Fear

The fastest way to dumb down a population is to scare them

Whipping up fear is a common tactic in politics. Providing stark, seemingly life or death choices, us versus them, scapegoating, creating a false bogeyman to distract from real problems, using lies and disinformation … fear is used because it often works.

Fear breeds anxiety and stress, and “anxiety increases the attention to negative choice options, the likelihood that ambiguous options will be interpreted negatively, and the tendency to avoid potential negative outcomes, even at the cost of missing potential gains.”

What does this mean? Why does fear work? Fear pushes people to see only the negative, to judge negatively even positive or neutral options, and to even act against their own best interests in order to avoid a suggested calamity.

Fear is corrosive; fear is the friend of dictators and authoritarian/totalitarian governments.

But, fear is also a state that we help create within ourselves. Just as we can allow fear to build and affect our lives, we can also disrupt it (though it is not easy to do that in times of high anxiety). One way to beat fear is through knowledge and understanding. Dig through the slogans and disinformation, get to the facts.

And, go to the source — Anxiety and Decision-Making (Catherine A. Hartley and Elizabeth A. Phelps, Biological Psychiatry, 2012).

See also —

Scapegoats and self-blame

Understand the context of information important to you; reduce the fear and anxiety

Clues to deception; who is telling the truth?

You have the power to make your own decisions about issues important to your life–use it!

Who do you believe?

You have the power to make your own decisions about issues important to your life–use it!

Knowledge brings understanding; more fully understanding an issue (immigration, health care, abortion, border security, taxation, tariffs, climate change, etc., etc.) reduces fear and anxiety about that issue.  Many people and organizations across the political spectrum push fear to make you act in a way that they want.

Make an effort to better understand the issues that are important in your life.  Remember that the truth is often complex; be skeptical of simple answers.  The big issues that affect millions are hard to solve, and any true solution is usually a compromise.  As Oscar Wilde said “the truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

So, make the effort to gain knowledge and understand, reduce the fear and anxiety, set your own value on information important to your life; make your own decisions–do not let others make important decisions for you!

To gain understanding, to reduce fear, to make your own decisions, try these guidelines —

Seek information, not affirmation: understand the algorithm-driven thought bubble of social media; social media can surround you with people and bots who seem to share many of your opinions.  That may seem comforting, but true understanding of an issue usually requires breaking that bubble and going outside your comfort zone.

Source + Motivation = Value:  always go to the original source of the information, if you can.  And, think about the context in which that information was produced; what was the motivation of the people who created that information–commercial, political, religious, etc.?  You can decide for yourself the real value of that information.

Dig deeper–do not rely on just one source of information:  in order to truly understand, look for evidence that supports and contradicts a finding, an analysis, an assertion.  Seek opinions other than your own.

See a list of questions to help you think about the value of information important to your life (Kevin Engel, November 15, 2018).

Scapegoats and self-blame

Scapegoating is “the act of blaming and often punishing a person or a group for a negative outcome that is due, in large part, to other causes.”

It’s not a new phenomenon.  It’s been going on for centuries–think of the witch hysteria and trials in Europe and America that lasted into the late 1700’s, the Nazis’ “attempted extermination of Jews and other minority groups” during World War II , and, more recently, Bosnia, Rwanda, right-wing movements in present-day Europe, and the current government in the United States targeting migrant caravans, Muslims, and many others.  Individuals, groups, and organizations blamed for everything from corrupting traditional moral values, contributing to economic disruption, causing crime, destroying a way of life, etc., etc.  “People seem all too eager to heap blame onto others for major misfortunes.”

The idea of the scapegoat is an astounding psychological tool for managing morale.”  “A scapegoat … is a tool for taming or expelling self-hatred.”

You’re stuck in a dead-end job living paycheck to paycheck, your relationship is a mess, you’re going nowhere, and you have no prospects … who is to blame?  Those poor choices you have made can’t possibly be the reason.  Instead, it must be those illegal aliens who are taking the best jobs, getting services for free, causing crime, destroying some mythical past way of life, and on and on.  They’re to blame; you’re a victim.  Self-esteem must be saved, inadequacy must be rationalized.

Then there are those who cynically use scapegoating for personal, often political benefit.  Political “campaigning spurs visions of greatness and vicious attacks on opponents.  They’re scapegoats, and the exaggerated hostility toward them is a symbolic slaughter.  The overreachers discharge their own panic and self-disgust at others.  And their followers thrill to be part of the hero’s symbolic rampage.”

We hate and demonize others to make up for the inadequacies and self-doubt we see in our own lives–and to prop up the individuals and groups who feed our opinions.

Scapegoating is dangerous and futile.  It never solves problems–only destroys and creates new ones.  The blamers may feel victimized and enraged but, in the end, they are as likely to be harmed.

Understand what causes and leads to scapegoating; break the cycle of fear and self-recrimination.  Forgive yourself and others.

(Kevin Engel, November 1, 2018)

For more information about psychological phenomena, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Clues to deception; who is telling the truth?

In a highly-cited study from 2003, DePaulo, et al. investigated if “people behave in discernibly different ways when they are lying compared with when they are telling the truth.”  The quest for determining consistent and obvious behavioral cues for deception is longstanding.  In the virtual world we live in today, separating falsehoods from the the truth is even more important.

Through a review and analysis that looked at some 158 different behavioral cues to deception from 120 separate independent samples, these cues emerged as significant:

*Liars provide fewer details in their accounts than do truth tellers.

*Liars pressed their lips more than truth tellers.

*Lies make less sense than the truths; they are less plausible, less likely to be structured in a logical way, and more likely to convey ambivalence.

*Liars seem less involved verbally and vocally in their self-presentations than do truth tellers, and liars use fewer gestures when speaking.

*Liars sound more uncertain, evasive, unclear, and impersonal.

*Liars raise their chins more often than truth tellers.

*Liars are more nervous and tense than truth tellers and have more dilated pupils.

*Truth tellers are more likely to make spontaneous corrections to their stories, and are more likely to admit an inability to remember something.

*”Cues to deception were more pronounced when people were motivated to succeed” especially for identity reasons.  Plus, cues were stronger when lies were about transgressions.

Today, we arguably face more deception and much of that happens virtually–through social media and the Internet–where behavioral cues are harder to read.  We are often remote participants watching video or hearing audio–both of which can be manipulated.  And, opportunities for technological deception will only grow more sophisticated.

In the end, it is up to each of us to go the extra mile (to seek information) to gain understanding, reduce the effect of fear, and make our own independent decisions.

(Kevin Engel, September 28, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of social media and technological deception, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.