Saturday, October 12, 2019

Random effects meta-analyses showed that social media use was significantly & positively related to affective empathy; effects were generally small in size and do not establish causality

Social Media Use and Empathy: A Mini Meta-Analysis. Shu-Sha Angie Guan, Sophia Hain, Jennifer Cabrera, Andrea Rodarte. Computer Science & Communications, Vol.8 No.4, October 2019, pp. 147-157. DOI: 10.4236/sn.2019.84010

ABSTRACT: Concerns about the effects of social media or social networking site (SNS) use on prosocial development are increasing. The aim of the current study is to meta-analytically summarize the research to date (k = 5) about the relationship between general SNS use and two components of empathy (i.e., empathic concern and perspective-taking). Random effects meta-analyses showed that SNS use was significantly and positively related to affective empathy though only marginally related to cognitive empathy. These effects were generally small in size and do not establish causality. Future research should explore how specific behaviors are related to different forms of empathy.

KEYWORDS: Social Media, Empathic Concern, Perspective-Taking

4. Discussion
Despite the decreases in empathy coupled with increases in media use at the societal level [13] , individual social media use in terms of frequency or time spent per day appears to be related to higher levels of empathy, particularly affective empathy. Even though the associations were small, they trended positive. However, there may be some online behaviors that cultivate empathy (e.g., sharing emotions, expressing support [21] ) more than others (e.g., updating profile photos [20] ). In combination with emerging longitudinal evidence that social media use at one time point is predictive of higher levels of cognitive and affective empathy one year later among adolescents [42] and experimental work that shows that interdependent Facebook use can promote relational orientation [37] , this study contributes to the growing literature on how social media can facilitate positive psychosocial development.
Although promising, there are limitations of the current meta-analysis to consider. This study aimed to look only at global measures of social media use in everyday life and, because of this inclusion parameter, includes a small sample of studies and effect sizes. This likely limits the generalizability of the results and our ability to detect differences by moderators (gender, age). Also, the results are correlational and do not establish causality. Previous research suggests that individuals who are prosocial offline are often prosocial online [29]. Despite our attempts to narrow the scope, there remained variability in the measures of media use and study parameters as indicated by the heterogeneity index. Given the wide range of online activities, future studies should explore how specific behaviors are related to different forms of empathy (e.g., helping strangers vs. family or friends [25] ). Additionally, the social media landscape is constantly evolving and this study captures media use as assessed by recent studies in one moment in time. Cultural psychologists suggest that changes in technology use, as part of larger shifting sociodemographic and ecological changes, can shape cultural values and learning environments in ways that directly affect human development across time [43].
It is also important to note that all of the studies included, and much of media research in general, have been conducted in industrialized, individualistic countries like the United States. This limited our ability to detect cultural differences. On the one hand, the most popular SNSs are often developed in Western cultures and can reflect the highly individualistic values of their developers and users [37] [44]. On the other hand, the Internet is a “global village” of individuals from various nationalities and cultural backgrounds with nearly 60% of the online population residing outside of the U.S. [44]. These diverse offline cultural values can be reflected in the online [45] - [52]. Additionally, there may be values and goals specific to the SNS context outside of the values that users bring with them [53]. Previous meta-analyses suggest that the effects of media use may be stronger in non-Western countries [26]. Future research should explore how cultural values in the online and offline interact in shaping development.
Although limited, this meta-analysis provides useful insights into the media-empathy paradox [13]. Additionally, it may be informative in better understanding growing generations of adolescents and young adults who have become the first generations to have grown up fully immersed in digital media (i.e., “digital natives”) having been born around or after the 1990s when the Internet was first commercially launched. This may mean that psychosocial development for these “digital natives” differs from prior generations of “digital immigrants” [9]. For example, greater face-to-face communication with family members, close friends, and acquaintances was associated with higher levels of psychological well-being (e.g., life meaning, relationship quality) for older adults age 35 - 54 but not for young adults age 18 - 34 [54]. As technology transforms society, social relationships, and media landscapes, it will become ever important to track how these changes affect individuals and their development.

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