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Is Instagram bad for mental health? Experts weigh in on how to use the platform more effectively

We’ve been questioning the same thing for years: Is Instagram bad for mental health? Between the need for likes and a verified status—plus the picture-perfect influencers we hold on a pedestal—it’s next to impossible not to feel somewhat inadequate while doom scrolling.

Chris Barry.

“Attaching our self-worth to how we think we compare to others who post on social media is also problematic,” says Dr. Chris Barry, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Washington State University. “Instead, using social media to connect with others or to keep up with news or topics of interest seem to be more adaptive in terms of well-being.”

Instagram users of all ages have felt some type of anxiety at one point or another whilst using the app. The picture-perfect presentation with engagement reveals, vacation stories, and job updates can be enough to make someone crack. What’s meant to be a fun, accessible way to connect with people has turned into a grand competition that’s led to feelings of deficiency, jealousy, FOMO and so much more.

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My Imperfect Life

How Has Social Media Impacted Our Mental Health?

This week’s question would appear to answer itself: It is the rare person who emerges from an hour’s scrolling feeling healthy, rejuvenated, and better-prepared to take on the vicissitudes of the day. The general consensus among the terminally online would seem to be that the internet is a miserable place just barely made tolerable by the idiots and well-meaning naifs whose screw-ups at least provide something to ridicule. But is there a scientific basis for this generalized feeling? How has social media actually impacted mental health, per the research? For this week’s Giz Asks, we reached out to a number of experts to find out.

Chris Barry.

According to Chris Barry, professor of psychology at Washington State University, whose work focuses on adolescent self-perception and social media engagement in adolescents and young adults:

It’s somewhat difficult to determine cause and effect with social media. It could be that social media impacts mental health, but it also could be that certain people who are feeling distressed and lonely seek out social media. So it’s a little bit of a chicken-and-the-egg situation.

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WSU faculty receive $1.4 million grant for assessment addressing truancy in schools

Several Washington State University faculty are the recipients of a $1.4 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to refine and expand an assessment that helps address truancy in K-12 schools.

Paul Strand.
Nicholas Lovrich.

Paul Strand, WSU Tri-Cities professor of psychology, Brian French, Berry Family Distinguished professor and director of WSU’s Learning and Performance Research Center and Psychometric Laboratory, Nick Lovrich, WSU Regents professor emeritus, and Bruce Austin, research associate in educational psychology and the LPRC, have worked since 2014 to evaluate and refine WARNS. With the grant, the group is adding to their team to help refine the tool.

“The grant allows us to explore the context of student situations and how to refine WARNS to reflect that context,” Strand said.

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WSU Insider

Cougs at the Olympics: Lisa Roman wins gold in rowing

Lisa Roman of Langley, British Columbia, who graduated from Washington State University with a bachelor of science degree in psychology and a minor in human development and sports management, won a Gold medal for Team Canada.

Roman rowed in the women’s eight. Washington State University has a massive women’s rowing program that is cranked out several high-level oarswoman.

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American Parents Are Way Too Focused on Their Kids’ Self-Esteem

For two kids who share so much of their DNA, my children couldn’t be more different in their displays of self-confidence. My 7-year-old recently got toothpaste on her dress while brushing her teeth, and in response, she burst into tears, dropped to the floor, and rolled around screaming, “I’m the worst person ever!” My 10-year-old, however, acts as though his knowledge already surpasses that of Albert Einstein. Whenever we point out that he’s wrong about something, he disagrees, as if the number of moons orbiting Jupiter is a matter of opinion. Sometimes I wonder if my daughter’s self-esteem is too low and my son’s is too high. How important is having the right amount of self-esteem? Does the right amount even exist?

Chris Barry.

America’s obsession with self-esteem makes evaluating and encouraging it difficult and messy. U.S. parents often have a hard time estimating how much self-esteem their children have. “It’s a really complex construct in our day-to-day lives,” Chris Barry, a developmental psychologist at Washington State University, told me. For instance, some American kids (and adults) with low self-esteem outwardly project confidence in an attempt to appear self-confident. On top of that, parents tend to overestimate their children’s self-esteem—perhaps both because kids are adept at hiding their issues, and because parents assume that healthy self-esteem is crucial and desperately want to believe their kids are doing fine.

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