Mirror, Mirror on My Facebook Wall: Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem

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CYBERPSYCHOLOGY, BEHAVIOR, AND SOCIAL NETWORKING Volume 14, Number 1-2, 2011 ª Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2009.0411

Mirror, Mirror on my Facebook Wall: Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem Amy L. Gonzales, M.A., and Jeffrey T. Hancock, Ph.D.

Abstract

Contrasting hypotheses were posed to test the effect of Facebook exposure on self-esteem. Objective SelfAwareness (OSA) from social psychology and the Hyperpersonal Model from computer-mediated communication were used to argue that Facebook would either diminish or enhance self-esteem respectively. The results revealed that, in contrast to previous work on OSA, becoming self-aware by viewing one’s own Facebook profile enhances self-esteem rather than diminishes it. Participants that updated their profiles and viewed their own profiles during the experiment also reported greater self-esteem, which lends additional support to the Hyperpersonal Model. These findings suggest that selective self-presentation in digital media, which leads to intensified relationship formation, also influences impressions of the self.

Introduction

O

ver a decade ago, Internet use was thought to promote negative psychosocial well-being, including depression and loneliness.1 Having attracted attention in and out of the research community, these findings prompted researchers to take a more nuanced look at the relationship between Internet use and psychosocial health,2,3 at times finding evidence that Internet use could be beneficial.3,4 The present study extends this research by examining the effects of the social-networking site Facebook (http://facebook.com), which represents a popular new form of Internet communication, on self-esteem. Previous work has addressed the role of Facebook and the ability to socialize, and the role that socializing online plays in supporting self-esteem and various forms of social capital.5,6 For example, one recent study found that Facebook can enhance ‘‘social self-esteem,’’ measured as perceptions of one’s physical appearance, close relationships, and romantic appeal, especially when users received positive feedback from Facebook friends.5 Also, individuals with low self-esteem may see particularly positive benefits from the social opportunities provided by Facebook.6 The effect of Facebook exposure on general self-esteem has not been explored. Yet Facebook, and other social-network sites, have the potential to affect temporary states of selfesteem. Social-network sites are designed to share information about the self with others, including likes/dislikes, hobbies, and personal musings via ‘‘wall posts,’’ and ‘‘status updates.’’ This information could make people aware of their own limitations and shortcomings, which would lower self-esteem,7 Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

or it could be that this information represents selective and therefore positively biased aspects of the self, which might raise self-esteem.8 Does Facebook operate on self-esteem in the same way non-digital information does, by decreasing selfesteem? Or does the opportunity to present more positive information about the self while filtering negative information mean that reviewing one’s own Facebook site enhances self-esteem? The following piece examines these questions, by exploring the theoretical predictions of Objective SelfAwareness (OSA) theory9 and the Hyperpersonal Model.8 Objective self-awareness One theoretical approach relevant to the effects of socialnetworking sites on self-esteem is OSA theory, one of the first experimentally tested psychological theories of the self. The theory assumes that humans experience the self as both subject and object.9 For example, the self as subject is found in daily experiences of life (e.g., waiting for the bus, eating lunch, watching TV10). In those experiences the self is an active participant in life and is not self-conscious. However, people become the ‘‘object of [their] own consciousness’’ when they focus...
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