Baylor Researchers Explore Effect of Instagram, TikTok on Psychological Well-Being

Noted smartphone researchers find that immersion in a world created by the social media experience drives problematic social media behaviors and addiction

May 3, 2023
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Contact: Kelly Craine, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-297-9065
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WACO, Texas (May 2, 2023) – Instagram and TikTok are two of the fastest-growing social media outlets in the U.S., offering entertainment and connection to a world-wide community with the ease of a finger swipe. Despite their growing popularity, little research has focused on the association between the specific use of Instagram and TikTok and a person’s psychological well-being.

Noted Baylor University smartphone researchers Meredith E. David, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Marketing, and James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in the Hankamer School of Business, have investigated the correlation between the “flow states” – or happiness experienced by individuals – while using Instagram and TikTok and psychological well-being.

David and Roberts published their research – Instagram and TikTok Flow States and Their Association with Psychological Well-Being – in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, the official journal of the International Association of Cyberpsychology, Training and Rehabilitation.

The study surveyed 420 U.S. adults to investigate the flow states experienced when using Instagram and TikTok and whether these flow states differentially impact well-being. A flow state is achieved when people are so engrossed in an activity that little else seems to matter to them and they will often continue the activity despite its negative consequences.

Key findings

There are 5 flow dimensions:

  • Focused Attention (immersion while using social media)
  • Enjoyment (fun experienced while using social media)
  • Curiosity (the desire to keep up with what’s happening on a social media site)
  • Telepresence (immersion in a world created by the social media experience
  • Time Distortion (losing a sense of time while on social media)

The study determined that telepresence is the key component of flow that drives problematic social media behaviors and addiction. Telepresence for both Instagram and TikTok users was associated with higher levels of addiction, mind wandering, FOMO, anxiety and depression. The study revealed that 28% of Instagram users and 24% of TikTok users in the study would qualify as addicted based upon the diagnostic criteria.

These social media platforms may provide an escape from everyday worries, but if overused, they are a poor coping strategy, David said.

“It is likely that immersion in the world created by the social media experience displaces the more meaningful and close interpersonal relationships on which our psychological well-being depends,” David said.

Differences between Instagram and TikTok users

Typically, the experience of flow is assumed to be similar across social media platforms, but this was not the case with Instagram and TikTok, researchers discovered. TikTok users report higher levels of overall flow, enjoyment and time distortion than Instagram users. A high telepresence was found in 53% of TikTok users but only 38% of Instagram users. This difference in flow composition suggests important differences may exist in how individuals experience flow across different social media platforms.  

For example, Instagram is more personal in nature. Users post photos and comment on posts within a more intimate circle of friends while TikTok videos are shared with a larger network of friends, followers and often strangers with the primary purpose to entertain and garner likes, comments and shares.

TikTok users have fun watching the many short videos on the app, which provides constant reinforcement to continue watching videos. This behavior leads to higher levels of the flow state time distortion. In the study, TikTok users reported they were more prone to lose track of time and spend more time than they had intended. They also reported becoming so engrossed in scrolling through videos that they continued the activity despite its negative consequences.

Overcoming negative impacts

The negative impacts of time distortion and telepresence can be mitigated by spending less time on apps. Roberts recommends:

  • Using the screen-time management settings available on most social media apps.
  • Designating a parent, spouse or an accountability partner to help monitor the time an individual spends on social media. 
  • Stopping app use after a predetermined amount of time helps strengthen an individual’s ability to practice restraint the next time they use social media.

Ultimately what determines the positive or negative effects of social media is dictated by the individual user.

“When overused as a replacement for true connections and communications, social media can be addictive and detrimental to well-being,” David said. “In small doses it can fulfill curiosity, entertain and even educate. Used intentionally, social media can be a useful tool for connecting with others and  fostering established relationships.”



Meredith E. David, Ph.D. associate professor of marketing
Meredith E. David, Ph.D. associate professor of marketing

Meredith E. David, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Marketing in the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University, focuses her research on marketing strategies with an emphasis on consumer behavior and well-being. Recently, her research has explored how new media technologies – including smartphones – impact personal and workplace relationships. Dr. David has also published research related to customized pricing tactics, interpersonal attachment styles and the pursuit of health goals. Her research appears in numerous journals, including the Journal of Business Research, Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Journal of Advertising, European Journal of Marketing and Psychology & Marketing, among others. Dr. David is coauthor of Pearson’s leading Strategic Management textbook (Strategic Management Concepts and Cases – A Competitive Advantage Approach, 18th edition). Dr. David has been interviewed about her research by national and international news outlets, including ABC News, Fox News,, Redbook Magazine, Consumer Reports and Health Magazine, among others.


​  The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing and director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership and Service in the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University,  ​
​ The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing and director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership and Service in the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University, ​

James Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing and director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership and Service in the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University, is a nationally recognized expert on consumer behavior, human-computer interaction, compulsive buying and effects of consumerism and technology on individual happiness. He has published articles in numerous journals, including Computers in Human Behavior, the Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Consumer Affairs, Journal of Public Policy and Marketing and Psychology & Marketing. He also is the author of two books, “Shiny Objects” (Harper Collins) and “Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?” Roberts has appeared on the CBS Early Show, ABC World News Tonight, ABC Good Morning America and NBC The Today Show and been quoted and/or featured on The O’Reilly Factor, The Doctors, TIME, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio, among others. His current research interests include investigating the antecedents and consequences of smartphone addiction and its impact on personal happiness and professional productivity.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. 


Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business strives to further God’s kingdom through the realm of business, using God-given gifts and academic talents to do so. Faculty and students conduct purposeful research and participate in experiential learning opportunities, all while operating in a Christ-centered mission. Undergraduate students can choose from 13 major areas of study. Graduate students can earn their M.B.A. on their terms, either through the full-time, online or a Dallas-based executive program. The Business School also offers three Ph.D. programs in Information Systems, Entrepreneurship or Health Services Research. The School’s top-ranked programs make up approximately 25% of the University’s total enrollment. Visit the Hankamer School of Business website for more information.