On a daily basis we are faced with large amounts of information, and it can prove challenging to process all of it and make the right decisions. Thankfully, humans have evolved to be able to deduce and generalise: we sample a limited amount of information from the world around us, and make inferences about this same world based on the sample we took. This way, we can avoid having to find and process every bit of information that exists in the world on a given subject, and nevertheless form and express the relevant mental representations and behaviours. Imaginably, any factors influencing the way in which we sample information from our environment are going to have a profound effect on the way in which we think about and behave towards the world around us.
Social Information and Social Media
We rely on social interactions for many things that are essential to our survival, such as food, safety, and even health. Some theories go as far as to propose that the human brain is uniquely attuned to (and to a certain degree dependent on) social interactions in order to deal with environmental challenges in a minimally effortful way (e.g. see Social Baseline Theory). Our propensity to seek out and exploit contact with others has most profoundly expressed itself in the form of social media and the fervour with which they are used, especially by youth.
Since the emergence of these platforms, social media have been pinpointed as one of the potential sources of the decreases that we see in a child and adolescent mental wellbeing. However, more and more recent research on this subject indicates that the relationship between social media use and wellbeing might not be as straightforward as previously thought, and that any potential relationship is likely not about quantity of social media use, but about specific experiences in those platforms. What sort of (social) information do youth encounter on social media? And from whom does this information come? How does it make them feel, while navigating these social platforms? And does the way in which these youth sample and process these snippets of social information matter for how it will affect them over time?
These - and other - questions are at the heart of this project, in which we attempt to unravel the relationships between what sort of social information youngsters encounter on social media, and how it affects them.