In the last decades, the developments of new media and digital technologies shaped the everyday life of most people, especially in industrialized countries. Today, we know a lot about social media use and its consequences, but at the same time the ability to draw generalizable conclusions is limited because few researchers manage to keep track of the steadily increasing research output. Rather, the complexity of the field tempts authors to refer to individual studies that fall in line with their assumptions while ignoring contradictory findings. Borrowing a famous quote, “we find ourselves in the mildly embarrassing position of knowing less than we have proven“ (Glass, 1976, p. 8).
Meta-analytic summaries use statistics to provide an overview of previous research on a certain question. All empirical studies reporting results on this topic are collected and statistically analyzed. As the name indicates, meta-analyses are able to make conclusions at the meta level. By taking a step out of the ocean of single studies, this overview helps to get a clearer picture of results about a certain topic. Through statistical methods, an overall value can be calculated that facilitates the interpretation of relationships and effects. Results of a meta-analytic summary are therefore a particularly suitable contribution to assess what research says about the risks and challenges of using digital media.
1 Glass, G. V. (1976). Primary, secondary, and meta-analysis of research. Educational Researcher, 5, 3-8.