Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Facebook and Self-Esteem

Your Facebook profile is an ideal version of yourself, full of photos and posts designed to put your best face forward to your friends, family and acquaintances. But there’s another benefit: A new study finds that looking at your own Facebook profile can boost self-esteem and influence your behavior. Catalina Toma, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, used the Implicit Association Test — a psychological measure of automatic, largely non-conscious associations between concepts – to measure Facebook users’ self-esteem after they spent time looking at their profiles. The test showed that after people spent just five minutes examining their own profiles, they experienced a significant boost in self-esteem. The test measured how quickly people associate positive or negative adjectives with words such as me, my, I and myself, the researcher explained. “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,” Toma said. “But if you have low self-esteem, the opposite is true.” She noted she used the Implicit Association Test because it cannot be faked, unlike other traditional self-reporting tools. “Our culture places great value on having high self-esteem. For this reason, people typically inflate their level of self-esteem in self-report questionnaires,” she said. “The Implicit Association Test removes this bias.” She also looked into whether viewing one’s own Facebook profile affects behavior. “We wanted to know if there are any additional psychological effects that stem from viewing your own self-enhancing profile,” she said. “Does engaging with your own Facebook profile affect behavior?” To test this, the researcher had the participants complete a serial subtraction task, assessing how quickly and accurately they could count down from a large number by intervals of seven. She found that the self-esteem boost that came from looking at their profiles actually diminished the participants’ performance in that task by decreasing their motivation to perform well. She found that people who spent time viewing their own profile attempted fewer answers than people in a control group. The error rate of both groups was about the same. This finding is consistent with self-affirmation theory, which claims that people constantly try to manage their feelings of self-worth, she noted. “Performing well in a task can boost feelings of self-worth,” Toma said. “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.” Toma cautions against drawing broad conclusions about Facebook’s impact on motivation and performance based on this study, since it examines just one facet of Facebook use. “This study shows that exposure to your own Facebook profile reduces motivation to perform well in a simple, hypothetical task,” she said. “It does not show that Facebook use negatively affects college students’ grades, for example. “Future work is necessary to investigate the psychological effects of other Facebook activities, such as examining others’ profiles or reading the newsfeed.” The study was published in Media Psychology.