Date of Conferral
Hedy R. Dexter
The decline in mental health among U.S. college students is a significant concern. Research suggests that social media use may contribute to this decline. Heavy reliance on social media has been linked to feelings of loneliness and disconnection, psychological distress, and a fear of missing out on rewarding social experiences, which may ultimately trigger feelings of social rejection. Using a foundation of need to belong theory, the purpose of this quantitative study was to examine individual differences in the need to belong, fear of missing out, and social media use as predictors of emotional and behavioral reactions to ambiguous social situations where social rejection can be inferred. Online survey data from 157 undergraduate students who use social media were collected using the Need to Belong Scale, Fear of Missing Out Scale, Social Networking Time Use Scale, and the Rejection Scenarios Questionnaire. Results from a hierarchical multiple regression revealed that increases in need to belong, fear of missing out, and social media use predicted heightened negative emotional reactions as well as avoidant and complaining behavioral reactions to perceived social rejection. Social media use and the fear of missing out predicted retaliation behavior in response to rejection. The predictor variables were not related to not acting friendly behavior. This study can promote social change by informing policy and instruction on digital media literacy, social media use in the classroom, and therapeutic interventions offered by campus psychological services, all of which can positively influence college students’ mental health and wellbeing.