Females use Facebook as a platform to compete for attention

A new study suggests that women who share lots of photos on Facebook are following an old stereotype, namely that females base their self worth on their appearance.

Females who base their self worth on their appearance tend to share more photos online and maintain larger groups of contacts on social networks. In general, women identify more strongly with their image and appearance, and use Facebook as a platform to compete for attention.

The new findings come from University at Buffalo researcher Michael A. Stefanone, PhD, plus colleagues Derek Lackaff, PhD, University of Texas, Austin, and Devan Rosen, PhD, University of Hawaii, Manoa. They published a study titled titled "Contingencies of Self-Worth and Social-Networking-Site Behavior" in the current issue of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

In the study, 311 participants with an average age of 23.3 years, 49.8 percent of whom were female, completed a questionnaire measuring their contingencies of self worth. The subjects were also queried as to their typical behaviors on Facebook.

The study's purpose was to investigate variables that explain specific online behavior on social networks. The contingencies, measured by the widely used Contingencies of Self Worth Scale developed by Crocker and Wolfe, are important internal and external sources of self-esteem. Previous research and theory has hypothesized that they affect an individual's sense of self worth. Stefanone's study found that contingencies of self worth can also explain much of the social behavior enacted online.

Stefanone says it's a little disappointing that in the year 2011 so many young women continue to assert their self worth via their physical appearance, instead of working to discourage the stereotype. In this case, they are doing so by posting photos of themselves on Facebook as a form of advertisement, at least according to this study. Is this something that society can work to change, or is it simply inevitable?

"The results suggest persistent differences in the behavior of men and women that result from a cultural focus on female image and appearance," Stefanone said in a statement. "Those whose self esteem is based on public-based contingencies (defined here as others' approval, physical appearance and outdoing others in competition) were more involved in online photo sharing, and those whose self worth is most contingent on appearance have a higher intensity of online photo sharing. Participants whose self worth is based on private-based contingencies (defined in this study as academic competence, family love and support, and being a virtuous or moral person) spend less time online."