Facebook’s massive popularity is due at least in part to its psychological impact on users, including beneficial effects like bolstering feelings of confidence and self-worth, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Cornell University.
The study, titled “Self-affirmation underlies Facebook use” and published in the March issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, examined how the subjects, all college students, responded to negative criticism of their performance in a test (involving public speaking) after viewing either their own Facebook profile or a stranger’s Facebook profile. The researchers found that subjects who viewed their own Facebook profile before taking the test were more likely to be receptive to criticism and less likely to try to blame someone else for their supposedly poor performance.
In a second test, the researchers gave subjects either neutral or negative feedback regarding a public speaking, then allowed them to choose from one of five online activities, which included visiting their own Facebook page, playing online casual games, and so on. Subjects who received neutral evaluations were equally likely to choose any of the four other online activities as visit Facebook -- while 60% of subjects who received negative evaluations chose to visit their Facebook page.
The authors summarized the results: “Study 1 shows that Facebook profiles are self-affirming in the sense of satisfying users' need for self-worth and self-integrity. Study 2 shows that Facebook users gravitate toward their online profiles after receiving a blow to the ego, in an unconscious effort to repair their perceptions of self-worth. In addition to illuminating some of the psychological factors that underlie Facebook use, the results provide an important extension to self-affirmation theory by clarifying how self-affirmation operates in people’s everyday environments.”
Of course, Facebook can be something of a double-edged sword, especially for people who are already prone to insecurity. In January I wrote about a study conducted by researchers at two German universities, which found that Facebook use could produce harmful psychological effects including feelings of envy, resentment, low-self esteem, loneliness, frustration and anger. Last year I also wrote about study by the University of Salford in Britain which found negative outcomes from social media use including feelings of insecurity or lack of confidence when users compared their achievements to their friends. And a study by Utah Valley University sociologists found that students who spend a lot of time on Facebook are more likely to perceive other people as having better lives than themselves.