This summer Guerilla Science hired a spectacular festival intern (paid, mind you). Rachel Williams, a PhD student in developmental neurobiology at King’s College London, tells us about her experience developing and hosting the social media assault course for the final the Secret Garden Party festival ever.

Guerilla Science at Secret Garden Party – Images by Richard Eaton

Have you ever thought that you might be addicted to social media? I worked with addiction specialists Fay Dennis and Katie East, with consultation from social media researcher Amy Orben, to separate the truth about social media use from the fake news. Together, we created an assault course demonstrating the dark and light sides of our online activities through playful, friendly competition!

Obstacle 1: Tug of war

Social comparison can make using social media a struggle or a safe haven, depending on the comparisons you make. Comparing yourself to people you see as better than you can knock your self-esteem, especially if you tend to scroll through passively. However, comparing yourself to people you think are #relatable doesn’t have the same effect.

We put this theory into action with the ultimate face to face comparison – a tug of war! There were definitely some sore feelings (and arms) after that one.

Obstacle 2: Planks

While passively scrolling through social media can take its toll, being part of an active online community can really boost your wellbeing. Researchers are currently investigating whether online social networking can be used as a tool to support people recovering from substance addictions.

In the obstacle course, teams had to work together to walk our planks from one side of the tent to the other. The only way to make it is to communicate and co-ordinate movements, just like an online community.

Obstacle 3: Tunnel

Many of us use social media to get validation and reassurance from the people we know. Every like, share, or retweet is like a pat on the back and leaves an impression on us. Both team members had to climb through the tunnel with a helping hand from their teammate and a huge cheer from the crowd.

Obstacle 4: Social media bubble

For the last obstacle, our teams had to cram themselves into a social media bubble (also known as a child-sized tent). The content we share online has varying impact depending on if the people you share with are (uncomfortably) close to you, or more distant acquaintances.

So, is social media addictive?

Overall, we think not. There isn’t enough evidence to say that social media affects the body and mind in the same way as a substance like tobacco. Also, simply not being on social media doesn’t have any benefits in the same way as abstaining from other addictions. Social media has positive and negative consequences – the goal should be to move toward responsible and healthy social media use. Which is why we awarded the fastest teams with a brand new selfie stick!