And the only interaction more rewarding than Snapchat? It's still face-to-face communication.
The study, appearing online in Information, Communication & Society, is one of the first known published research findings examining Snapchat and daily mood.
Snapchat is a mobile application known as a form of "ephemeral social media," which are platforms displaying shared content for a limited period of time (e.g., 10 seconds).
"On the surface, many people view Snapchat as the 'sexting app,'" said U-M researcher Joseph Bayer, the study's lead author. "But instead, we found that Snapchat is typically being used to communicate spontaneously with close friends in a new and often more enjoyable way.
"At the same time, Snapchat interactions were perceived as having less social support than other social media. These findings open up important questions about the benefits and costs of different social media."
Bayer and colleagues recruited 154 college students who used smartphones. The study used "experience sampling"—which measures how people think, feel and behave moment-to-moment in their daily lives—to assess the participants' well-being by texting them at random times six times a day for two weeks.
Each text message contained a link to an online survey with five questions:
- How negative or positive do you feel right now?
- How did your most recent interaction occur?
- How pleasant or unpleasant was your most recent interaction?
- Within that interaction, how supportive or unsupportive was that person to you?
- How close are you to that person?
Snapchat interactions are associated with more positive emotions than Facebook and other social technologies, the researchers say. Simultaneously, Snapchat interactions are viewed as less "supportive" than other types of interaction, including Twitter, texting, email, calling and face-to-face.
Bayer and colleagues also investigated what aspects of Snapchat use might cause the increased emotional reward. Their findings suggest that reduced "self-presentational" concerns are a major reason, such as not worrying if shared pictures seem ugly or conceited.
"Since Facebook has become a space for sharing crafted big moments such as babies, graduations and birthdays, Snapchat seems to provide users with a distinct space for sharing the small moments," said Bayer, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication Studies whose research focuses on communication technologies.
In addition, participants reported focusing more attention on Snapchat messages than archived content on platforms like Facebook, which may contribute to the increased emotional reward.
"If ephemeral social media are garnering a more concentrated form of attention, then Snapchat may also stand out from other social media to advertisers," he said.
Bayer said one surprising finding that emerged in follow-up interviews was that participants viewed Snapchat as similar to face-to-face conversations because they were mundane, not recorded and typically occurred with close relationships.
The study's co-authors are U-M researchers Nicole Ellison and Sarita Schoenebeck of the U-M School of Information and Emily Falk of the University of Pennsylvania.