Background Use of social media (SM) has exponentially grown particularly among youths in the past two years, due to COVID-19-related changing lifestyles. Based on the Italian COvid Mental hEalth Trial (COMET), we investigated the association between SM use and depressive symptoms among Italian young adults (aged 18-24). Methods The COMET is a nationwide multi-center cross-sectional study that investigated socio-demographic data, social networking addiction (BSNAS), depression, anxiety, and stress (DASS-21), as well as impulsiveness (BIS-15) and aggressiveness (AQ) in a large sample of youngsters, in order to assess the association between BSNAS and DASS-21 indices. Mediation analyses were performed to evaluate the role of impulsiveness and aggressive personality traits in the association between SM use (SMU) and depression. Results 75.8% of the sample (n = 491) had a problematic SMU. SMU was reduced by high AQ and high DASS-21 scores (F = 42.338, p < 0.001, R-2 = 0.207). Mediation analyses showed that SMU negatively predicted depressive symptomatology with the interaction mediated by AQ total (ss = - 0.1075), physical (ss = - 0.207) and anger (ss = - 0.0582), BIS-15 total (ss = - 0.0272) and attentional (ss = - 0.0302). High depressive levels were predicted by high AQ scores, low SMU levels, low verbal and physical AQ, and low attentional BIS-15 (F = 30.322, p < 0.001, R-2 = 0.273). Depressive symptomatology negatively predicted SMU with their interaction mediated by AQ total (ss = - 0.1640), verbal (ss = 0.0436) and anger (ss = - 0.0807), BIS-15 total (ss = - 0.0448) and attentional (ss = - 0.0409). Conclusions SMU during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic could have a beneficial role in buffering negative consequences linked to social isolation due to quarantine measures, despite this association being mediated by specific personality traits.
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