May 31, 2013
Can Facebook Boost Your Self-Esteem?
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Love it or hate it, Facebook is here to stay. The always on and ever present nature of the social networking site has clearly had an impact on society at large, and these effects have been the subject of much study in recent years. Previous research has shown that Facebook can distract us, can divide long lived friendships, and even make us feel envious and sad about our own lives.
Now, however, there´s a new study which seems to defy these claims. According to a University of Washington-Madison study conducted by Catalina Toma, Facebook users may feel better about themselves after spending time on the social site. The photos and updates that fill a Facebook profile are often an idealized version of our real selves — a sort of wishful-thinking approach to reality. According to Toma, spending virtual time with this positive-leaning version of ourselves makes us generally feel better about who we really are.
Toma, a UW-Madison assistant professor of communication arts, measured Facebookers´ self esteem using the Implicit Association Test. This is the first time such a test has been conducted to measure how Facebook effects its users. After only five minutes of time spent on the site, the study participants saw a “significant boost” in self esteem, reported Toma. The study tested the users responses to words like ℠me,´ ℠my,´ ℠I´ and ℠myself´ to measure self worth.
"If you have high self-esteem, then you can very quickly associate words related to yourself with positive evaluations but have a difficult time associating words related to yourself with negative evaluations," said Toma in a statement.
"But if you have low self-esteem, the opposite is true."
Something as relative as self esteem can often be tricky to measure, which is why Toma said she chose the Implicit Association Test to get the most accurate results from the study. With self-esteem so highly valued in our culture, she says some people inflate their self-esteem levels to look better on paper. In fairness, people will often inflate their Facebook profiles as well, padding it with only good news or flattering pictures.
Going beyond self-esteem, Toma also wanted to find if engaging with one´s Facebook profile also affected their behavior as well. After taking the Implicit Association Test, the participants were subjected to a behavioral test wherein they were asked to count down from a large number in intervals of seven. Whatever boost of self worth came from looking at ones profile was quickly diminished if they were unable to correctly give the correct answers in the mathematical portion of the test. In fact, Toma says some participants were even less likely to offer answers in the behavioral part of the study for fear that they´d get the answer wrong and presumably lose the high of feeling good about themselves.
"Performing well in a task can boost feelings of self-worth," said Toma.
"However, if you already feel good about yourself because you looked at your Facebook profile, there is no psychological need to increase your self-worth by doing well in a laboratory task."
It´s possible then that spending any amount of time may make users nothing more than conflicted about their self worth or their outlook on life.
A January study from Berlin found that Facebook users can quickly become envious when looking at the pictures of their friends vacations, loved ones, children or new homes. Users were said to compare their lives to those of their friends and more often than not feel as if their lives weren´t up to snuff.