Is Social Media Affecting Your Self-Image?

December 9 2014

Social media channels have played an increasingly central role in communication over the past few years, especially as smart phones and high-speed internet access have become ubiquitous. We tend to define our self-image socially, by comparing ourselves to others. Communication with our peers in any form has the ability to affect our self-image, but social media is distinct in a number of ways.

Social media is public and visual.

People post content on social media channels for a variety of reasons, but image is always a factor. Like any other public place, we tend to show our best side on social media posts. We post pictures of ourselves wearing our best clothes during our best moods on happy days. We pick out the shots that show the most flattering images. We have the ability to selectively screen our content according to the face we want our friends to see.

Because we can all choose the images we show to the public, social media can create a deceptive picture of reality. It’s easy to develop the false impression that your friends are all happier, wealthier, better-looking, more popular, better dressed and more fulfilled with their lives than you are. This can create feelings of sadness and shame. Some have speculated that it can even lead to depression. In reality, your friends are most likely hiding the darkest parts of their day.

Unconscious Comparison

You may not think you are the type to compare yourself with others, but this is an automatic process—we all do it. The human brain constantly makes comparisons whether you want it to or not. Advertising companies have known this for decades. That’s why you can walk into a store and see prices advertised at 20% off. In fact, most consumers are more excited about saving $5 on a $10 purchase than to save $100 on a $10,000 purchase. Why? Your brain evaluates choices by comparing one thing against another.

In the world of social media, this phenomenon has profound consequences. Even if you are not particularly concerned about anyone else’s opinion of you, your brain is making automatic and unconscious comparisons every time you scroll through your social media feeds. When you see a picture of a group of your friends smiling and holding up their drinks at happy hour, a part of your brain is unconsciously comparing this picture to your current reality in the present moment. Your perception of your own situation is likely to change, if only slightly. But if you are in the habit of checking your social media feeds repeatedly throughout the day, these unconscious comparisons can have a compounding effect.

Social media neither helps nor harms your self-image on its own. Your habits and the way that you use social media will ultimately determine the effect that it has on you. But if you find your mood dampening as you read your friends’ news feeds, consider that your social media habits may need to change.

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Categories: Blog, Self-Image