Internet, television and social capital: the effect of ‘screen time’ on social capital

Marc Hooghe, Jennifer Oser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1175-1199
Number of pages25
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number10
StatePublished - 3 Oct 2015


  • General Social Survey
  • communication studies
  • computer-mediated communication
  • internet use
  • social capital
  • television

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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