Social media allows people to develop larger social networks than ever before, connecting them to others more easily and seeing more deeply into their public and private lives. Lijun Song, associate professor in the Vanderbilt University Department of Sociology and the Department of Medicine, Health and Society, explored whether these social connections harmed or hurt one’s well-being in published research that won the American Sociological Association’s 2021 Best Publication Award in the Sociology of Mental Health Section.
Knowing people in positions or power and wealth should be beneficial to an individual’s life satisfaction, which is the social capital theory. But Song’s research revealed that accessed status, or the occupational status of people an individual is connected with, could be either protective or harmful to one’s life satisfaction, depending on how that accessed status is measured and which society people live in.
Accessed status tends to be more harmful in collectivistic societies; she studied urban China and Taiwan. In collectivistic societies, people are more densely connected, and the cost of investing in and maintaining these ties is greater. In a collectivist society, people are more likely to compare themselves to those of higher status, which can trigger negative thoughts about their own status. They are also more likely to receive harmful unsolicited feedback.
“To decrease the negative effects of social networks, particularly in collectivistic culture, we need to design preventive intervention programs to train people in psychosocial coping capacities and skills they need to buffer themselves against health-damaging costs of social ties,” Song said.
“To increase the positive effects of social networks, we need to design preventive intervention programs to train people in social networking capacities and skills they need to establish, maintain and mobilize social ties. Also, governments may consider developing progressive policies that would make society more egalitarian in order to enhance the protective effects of social networks.”