People who spend a lot of time looking at selfies on Facebook and other social media sites may have low self-esteem and feel less satisfied with their lives, a new study suggests.
“Most of the research done on social network sites looks at the motivation for posting and liking content, but we’re now starting to look at the effect of viewing behavior,” says Ruoxu Wang, a graduate student in mass communications at Penn State.
Viewing behavior is called “lurking” when a person does not participate in posting or liking social content, but just observes. This kind of participation in social media may sound like it should have little effect on how humans view themselves, but the study, published in the Journal of Telematics and Informatics, suggests the opposite.
Wang and Fan Yang, a graduate student in mass communications, conducted an online survey to collect data on the psychological effects of posting and viewing selfies and groupies. Posting behavior didn’t have significant psychological effects for participants—but viewing behavior did. The more often people viewed their own and others’ selfies, the lower their level of self-esteem and life satisfaction.
“People usually post selfies when they’re happy or having fun,” Wang says. “This makes it easy for someone else to look at these pictures and think his or her life is not as great as theirs.”
Participants categorized as having a strong desire to appear popular were even more sensitive to selfie and groupie viewing. In this case, however, selfie and groupie viewing behavior increased the self-esteem and life satisfaction for these participants, likely because this activity satisfied the participants’ desires to appear popular.
Wang and Yang say they hope the findings can raise awareness about social media use and the effect it has on viewers of people’s social networks.
“We don’t often think about how what we post affects the people around us,” Yang says. “I think this study can help people understand the potential consequences of their posting behavior. This can help counselors work with students feeling lonely, unpopular, or unsatisfied with their lives.”