Plurality in the measurement of social media use and mental health: An exploratory study among adolescents and young adults

Diamantis Petropoulos Petalas*, Elly A. Konijn, Benjamin K. Johnson, Jolanda Veldhuis, Nadia A.J.D. Bij de Vaate, Christian Burgers, Ellen Droog, Ewa Międzobrodzka, Katalin E. Balint, Rens van de Schoot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


On a daily basis, individuals between 12 and 25 years of age engage with their mobile devices for many hours. Social Media Use (SMU) has important implications for the social life of younger individuals in particular. However, measuring SMU and its effects often poses challenges to researchers. In this exploratory study, we focus on some of these challenges, by addressing how plurality in the measurement and age-specific characteristics of SMU can influence its relationship with measures of subjective mental health (MH). We conducted a survey among a nationally representative sample of Dutch adolescents and young adults (N = 3,669). Using these data, we show that measures of SMU show little similarity with each other, and that age-group differences underlie SMU. Similar to the small associations previously shown in social media-effects research, we also find some evidence that greater SMU associates to drops and to increases in MH. Albeit nuanced, associations between SMU and MH were found to be characterized by both linear and quadratic functions. These findings bear implications for the level of association between different measures of SMU and its theorized relationship with other dependent variables of interest in media-effects research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Media + Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • adolescents
  • measurement variability
  • media effects
  • mental health
  • social media use
  • young adults


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