WebMD Medical News
Laura J. Martin, MD
March 4, 2011 -- If you’re feeling a little blue, don’t look into a mirror. Take a gander instead at your Facebook page, which may boost your self-esteem.
That’s the conclusion of a new study by Cornell University researchers involving the wildly popular online social networking site.
The reasons for this positive effect seem clear, the researchers say.
“Unlike a mirror, which reminds us of who we really are and may have a negative effect on self-esteem if that image does match with our ideal, Facebook can show a positive version of ourselves,” Jeffrey Hancock, PhD, one of the authors of the study, says in a prepared statement. “We’re not saying that it’s a deceptive version of self, but it’s a positive one.”
Hancock and fellow researcher Amy L. Gonzales, MA, now a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, signed up 63 Cornell students to take part in experiments in the university’s Social Media Lab.
The students were either seated at computers showing their Facebook profiles or at computers that were turned off. Some of those at turned-off computers had mirrors to look at, and others didn’t. Students in the third group were encouraged to fiddle with their Facebook profiles.
The students on Facebook were allowed to spend three minutes perusing the page, exploring only their own profiles and associated tabs.
All 63 students were given a questionnaire designed to measure self-esteem.
Students who looked at their Facebook profiles during the experiment had higher self-esteem than students in the groups where the computer was turned off.
Students who viewed their Facebook profile but left their profile site during the study reported lower self-esteem than students who exclusively viewed their own profile site.
Also, study participants who edited their Facebook profile during the study reported higher self-esteem than those who did not change their profile. The researchers viewed editing as a primary means of optimizing self-presentation. Because Facebook users can be selective about what they say or present about themselves, including photographs and autobiographical information, they can present themselves as conforming to an ideal, the authors write.
With Facebook, users are able to enhance “awareness of the optimal self,” the study says. And the self-image can be polished unabashedly with clever comments and by providing personal details and photos that users deem flattering.
“For many people, there’s an automatic assumption that the Internet is bad,” Hancock says. “This is one of the first studies to show that there’s a psychological benefit of Facebook.”
The study is published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.
SOURCES:News release, Cornell University.News release, Cornell Chronicle Online.Gonzales, A. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, January/February 2011;vol 14: pp 79-83.
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