Feeling down? According to researchers, a visit to Facebook is likely to make you feel much better about yourself.
No, really. Love it or hate it – most of us hate it – and Facebook may give us ulcers about our privacy, but an interesting new study concludes that Facebook actually boosts your self-esteem. You won't feel better about Facebook, but you may be learning to like yourself more than people who don't use social networks.
In Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem: Mirror, mirror on my Facebook wall (.PDF), Cornell University researchers A.L. Gonzales and J.T. Hancock studied the psychological effects of social network sites and self-esteem.
"To our knowledge, this study describes the first known experimental test of how exposure to Facebook impacts self-esteem generally."
Surprisingly they concluded that individuals reported higher self-esteem after spending time with their Facebook profile than after spending time looking in an actual mirror.
The results of Mirror, Mirror run contrary to many negative impressions about Facebook use
In general, Internet use is a typical whipping post for blame and pronouncements about potential harm to the self.
Your friends might call it "Facecrack" because they joke they're "addicted" to it, though the negative connotation isn't all its cracked up to be. And you probably read the headline of this post and concluded that I was smoking some kind of pipe.
Yet mainstream media has always been happy to fluff seemingly limitless dangers about hours of use leading to so-called "Internet addiction," without making any distinctions about the different types of Internet use – such as spending lots of time on social networks.
Explained in their paper published this month, the Cornell researchers specifically used Facebook to determine whether or not there is a correlation between use of the site and a negative impact on psychosocial well-being.
Mirror, Mirror came to the conclusion that the Internet does not give you a raging case of low self-esteem, and that it makes us aware of ourselves in ways not previously possible:
"Results from an experimental test of the hypotheses indicate that a Hyperpersonal effect, presumably due to selective self-presentation on social network sites, enhances self-esteem. These findings demonstrate that the Internet indeed generates a unique form of self-awareness, which differs from previous, offline stimuli."
Seeking to understand if obsessing over your profile photo until 4am makes you feel better or worse, Gonzales and Hancock used contrasting hypothesis to argue that Facebook would either diminish or enhance self-esteem.
"The results revealed that, in contrast to previous work on OSA, becoming self-aware by viewing one's own Facebook profile enhances self-esteem rather than diminishes it. Participants that updated their profiles and viewed their own profiles during the experiment also reported greater self-esteem, which lends additional support to the Hyperpersonal Model."
Yes, they used actual mirrors
While any study has yet to demonstrate that exposure to one’s own Facebook page changes self-views, most studies prior to Mirror, Mirror suggested a relationship between self-esteem and Facebook use.
But no one had tried to determine if exposure to your own page changed the way you felt about yourself.
"In fact, recent studies in CMC research indicate a relationship between positive self-esteem and Facebook use. Facebook is used by narcissists, individuals with unnaturally high, but unstable self-esteem, to self-promote (Buffardi & Campbell, 2008). Individuals with low self-esteem particularly benefit from Facebook use in building a stronger social network (Ellison et al., 2007).Finally, the feedback that users receive from friends on Facebook influences self-esteem. Positive feedback correlates with high self-esteem and negative feedback correlates with low self-esteem (Valkenburg et al., 2006)."
Proponents of alleged harms of Internet use will probably still like to say that all your social media navel-gazing couldn't be good for you. It's easy to think that staring at your own pictures and a record of your behavior, a reflection of yourself, would make you more self-aware and make your self-esteem plummet.
But next time insecurity strikes, you might want to avoid looking in the mirror and take a look at yourself on Facebook instead.
Because the information in your online profile is self-selected, staring into your mirror image on your own Facebook page is actually pretty good for you. As long as you don't intentionally post photos of yourself that you hate, your Facebook profile acts as a sweetened, groomed selection of the more ideal self you want to project.
People feel that their carefully cultivated profiles – Internet self-presentations – show the more "real" reflections of their identities.
And since these presentations enhance the way other people see you, spending time with it reinforces the things that make you feel good about yourself.
Personally, I'm still waiting for someone to determine and publish the harmful effects of Facebook collecting and selling all your personal information and Internet habits. Our ideal selves might be in that profile pic, but no amount of Photoshop is going to fix the mess Facebook seems to want to do with our data.
So Facebook still sucks, but it's not actually bad for you. Who knew?
Image: Funhouse mirror by fuzzcat (Rusty Haskell).