Social capital theory as it was developed in the 1990s assumed that face-to-face interaction is a crucial requirement for the development of generalized trust and other pro-social attitudes and behaviours. Television and other electronic media were therefore dismissed as having a potentially negative impact on social capital development. Based on an analysis of high-quality data and a rich variety of social capital indicators in the General Social Survey 2012, we assess the impact of two broad categories of screen time – internet and television – on both attitudinal and behavioural components of social capital. The results show that while watching television is either unrelated or negatively related to a range of social capital indicators, there is usually a positive relation between internet use (in various forms) and social capital indicators. This direct comparison of the impact of internet and television usage on social capital indicators in a nationally representative study challenges the expectation that television and other digital technologies would have a similar negative impact on social capital. The findings suggest that internet-based activities clearly play a positive role in the development of social capital despite the lack of in-person interaction, and the concluding discussion reviews avenues for future research to tease out causal mechanisms in the production of social capital in the digital age.
- General Social Survey
- communication studies
- computer-mediated communication
- internet use
- social capital