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22-05-2021 | Original Article

Idiographic Network Models of Social Media Use and Depression Symptoms

Cognitive Therapy and Research
Micaela Rodriguez, George Aalbers, Richard J. McNally
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Disentangling the impact of social media use on well-being is a priority for psychological research. Numerous studies suggest that active social media use (ASMU) enhances well-being, whereas passive social media use (PSMU) undermines it. However, such research has conducted group-level analyses, potentially obscuring individual differences. We examined person-centered relationships between SMU and depression symptoms by using a publicly available experience sampling dataset (Aalbers Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 148: 1454–1462, 2019)


Dutch undergraduate students (N = 125) reported PSMU, ASMU, and depression symptoms 7 times daily for 14 days. We (a) visualized interindividual variability in temporal associations between social media use and individual depression symptoms, (b) compared the aggregate network model to idiographic models, and (c) determined the distribution of person-specific temporal associations.


Overall, we found that associations between social media use and depression symptoms differed substantially from individual to individual in both strength and kind. In addition, PSMU and ASMU were very weakly to weakly associated with depression symptoms for most individuals.


Studying idiographic relationships between social media use and depression may help us (1) determine which individuals are most at risk of experiencing elevated depression symptoms after using social media and (2) personalize therapeutic treatments to alleviate symptoms.

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