Facebook and Self-Esteem

Viewing your own profile on Facebook can boost self-esteem, but also decrease your desire to perform according to a new study published in the June, 2013, issue of the journal Media Psychology by a University of Wisconsin professor Catalina Toma.

The study is entitled “Feeling Better But Doing Worse: Effects of Facebook Self-Presentation on Implicit Self-Esteem and Cognitive Task Performance.”

Toma found that the self-edited profiles people post on Facebook present idealized versions of themselves that provide a significant boost to self-esteem after looking at them for just five minutes.

Toma measured how quickly participants associated positive or negative adjectives with words such as me, my, I and myself. “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.”

Additionally, Toma investigated whether exposure to 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?”

Self-Satisfaction Decreases Motivation to Perform Well

The behavior examined in the study was performance in a serial subtraction task, assessing how quickly and accurately participants could count down from a large number by intervals of seven. Toma found that the self-esteem boost that came from looking at their profiles ultimately diminished participants’ performance in the follow-up task by decreasing their motivation to perform well.

After people spent time on their own profile they attempted fewer answers during the allotted time than people in a control group, but their error rate was not any worse.

“Performing well in a task can boost feelings of self-worth,” Toma says. “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.”

Viewing Others’ Profiles May Deflate Self-Esteem

Toma cautions, however, that “This does not show that Facebook use negatively affects college students’ grades.”  Previous research has actually shown that looking at the Facebook profiles of others could have some ego-deflating effects. In a study presented last year at the meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, people with lots of Facebook friends experienced a drop in self-esteem after viewing their friends’ status updates.

My Take

This research is a valuable contribution to self-affirmation theory. This theory states that people are motivated to maintain a feeling of self-worth, especially when their self-image is threatened.

Many highly motivated people are often driven by performance anxiety, the feeling that someone might be gaining on them. A few calm moments of reassurance from time to time can be healthy. Gazing at one’s accomplishments can be a good reminder of how hard work paid off.

However, excessive basking in the fading glory of yellowing press clippings can also keep one from moving forward. The more we live in the past, the less time we have to focus on the future.

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One thought on “Facebook and Self-Esteem

  1. The text you quoted from the study makes it sound like the individuals studied had idealized and perhaps “enhanced” their personal profiles. I wonder if this enhancement and idealization had the greater effect than a perfectly unexceptional profile would have?

    Actual accomplish has been shown to have a much greater and longer-lasting effect upon a person’s feeling of self worth than simply being told, or telling oneself, how wonderful one is.

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