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Researchers to investigate the impact of Instagram on teen mental health

Scientists are embarking on a new study to examine how Instagram affects the mental health and wellbeing of teenagers and young adults in Australia and the United States.

The study, led by Dr Justine Gatt at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) will look into the positive and negative impact of Instagram on 2,500 teenagers over a six-month period.

It is the world’s first study to include teenagers as young as 13, the minimum age permissible for an Instagram account.

The results will lead to recommendations about the healthy use of Instagram.

“Adolescence is a critical period where the brain develops rapidly and young people learn how to respond to their environment,” said Dr Gatt.

“Social media can have a positive influence on teenagers as it connects them with peers and creates a sense of community. Feeling connected is particularly important to this age group as they grapple with social isolation due to COVID-19,” she said.

“But social media can also reinforce unhealthy behaviours, such as dissatisfied body image and cyberbullying.”

This study is being conducted via a research grant awarded by Instagram and targets teenagers due to the platform’s popularity among young people. There are more than 100 million Instagram users in Australia and the US.

The study will look at usage patterns, such as how often someone logs in to Instagram, and whether they post content to the platform.

Researchers will examine the rate of anxiety and depression among study participants, and will use a questionnaire to help determine whether wellbeing and mental illness symptoms are impacted by the app use or other events, such as a falling out with a friend or death in the family.

“Over the past decade, there’s been a dramatic shift in how we use social media platforms. To create the best health guidance for younger Australians, it is essential we study users today, rather than rely on old data about other social media channels,” she said.