Likes on Instagram may be distorting children’s perception of reality, according to new mental health research

new study Posted in Psychology Journal It shows that likes on social media on platforms like Instagram may be highly socially relevant to teens with high social comparison and comment search motives. The research suggests that such teens may be more emotionally vulnerable to the reactions being received.

“Instagram is set up as a platform where users are constantly exposed to processes of social comparison, which becomes particularly relevant during adolescence when identity-building processes take place,” says Maria Carmen Herrera of the University of Granada in Spain. “However, individual differences based on social comparison may influence how users process information received on social networking sites and, in turn, how it affects users’ psychological well-being.”

To understand the effect of social media likes on teens, researchers instructed a group of participating teens to imagine a hypothetical situation where they posted a photo on Instagram that received few or many likes, depending on which experimental group they belonged to.

They followed this up with an exercise where the participants also expressed their emotional reactions (and their intensity) through emojis.

Two main results emerged:

  1. Teens who imagined receiving a few likes in the default mode showed significantly more negative feelings and less positive feelings
  2. This was inflated for adolescents who showed a high tendency to compare themselves socially with their peers, and for older adolescents (ages 15-18)

“The findings are consistent with the fact that processes of social comparison and the pursuit of social reinforcement become particularly relevant during late adolescence when identity-building processes occur,” explains Herrera.

These problems can have profound and long-term consequences for adolescents that can persist into adulthood.

According to Herrera, the following two characteristics of social networking sites make them particularly attractive to teens with high social comparison and comment-seeking needs:

1. Can be used as a means of self-regulation

Social networking sites can help individuals overcome their shortcomings and meet their psychological and social needs. However, when individuals fail to meet their needs and expectations through the use of social media, they may experience long-term psychological problems such as loss of self-esteem, loneliness, low social support, depression, and anxiety.

Herrera highlights, “Extensive use of social media sites has been associated with increased concerns about body image, self-objection, social comparison, and envy, as well as the possibility of experiencing and participating in cyberbullying.”

2. Can be used as a “social monitoring” tool

Social media users engage in a reciprocal process known as “social monitoring” where they not only carefully manage their own posts but also check the content others post on their profiles and private updates from the point of view of others.

“These social monitoring dynamics seem to have a huge impact on users because they depict what is normal, desirable, and common in the online community,” explains Herrera. “People often see themselves as worse and experience unfavorable emotional states (such as frustration, anger, envy) as a result of these self-evaluations, which in the long run can lead to severe psychological problems.”

ConclusionFor the future, Herrera hopes to see more research aimed at examining the effectiveness of current prevention and intervention programs on responsible use of digital media, since the rapid development and modernization of technologies means that both research and practical intervention must undergo evaluation and review.

Herrera concludes that “it is necessary to review existing educational programs and promote the development of new ones that effectively prevent and address problematic Internet use at an early age.”

A full interview with psychologists Maria Dolores Sanchez and Maria Carmen Herrera to discuss their new research can be found here: Likes on social media can change the way you see reality and yourself