The Magic Facebook Mirror

in Article
March 10th, 2011

“Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all” says the evil Queen of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I don’t deny that growing up on Disney gave me a somewhat skewed sense of reality at times. Wouldn’t it be nice to all have our own magic mirrors, constantly reminding us how wonderful and beautiful we are in the midst of the stress that is life?

A recent study by researchers at Cornell University have shown that we may actually have such a magic mirror – Facebook, as fate would have it. There are varying opinions concerning internet use on our personalities, but this study shows that Facebook can have a short term positive effect on self esteem.

Facebook Logo

The authors set out to test two models of self perception. The first is Objective Self Awareness (OSA). According to this model, people analyze themselves according to how well they can adhere to social norms. This can not only be carried out through internal self reflection, but also “playbacks” of a self by using devices such as a mirror or audio recording. Facebook can be used as grounds to test the OSA because profiles contain information about the self like pictures. The second model is the Hyperpersonal Model. This is carried out through selective self-presentation. If this model is correct, Facebook is also a good platform to support it, as profiles allow users to selectively share information about themselves. Based on the model, they will share what they like about themselves, and thus would have higher self esteem after looking at only good qualities on their profile.

Participants in the study were in two general groups – the noninternet and internet group. The noninternet subjects sat in a room with computers, and mirrors in front of the computer screens. They were asked to fill out a questionnaire about how they were feeling. In contrast, the internet group participants were told to go on Facebook for three minutes. Afterwards, they filled out a questionnaire including questions such as “Did you only view your profile?” or “Did you edit your profile?”

Out of all the participants, the group with the highest reported self esteem were those participants that edited their profile while on Facebook. The next highest were those that had viewed their own profile, or a mix of their own profile as well as others. Those that were only allowed to look at themselves in a mirror reported having low self esteem. Thus, according to the OSA and Hyperpersonal Model, Facebook enhances the user’s self esteem by playing on attributes that the user finds positive.

While this study showed very short-term self esteem boosts, it does not incorporate many factors that should be necessary on a study of social networking websites. Did the subjects studied have an abnormally high number of friends? This could boost self esteem by making the user feel popular. Long term studies would be necessary to determine if contant profile refreshing would actually make the Facebook user doubt him/herself, or feel worse when self-defined “bad” attributes were expressed in real life? This study is a good start to the exploration of social networking sites on short term self esteem, but much more work needs to be done to determine long term benefits or limits.

Mirror, Mirror on my Facebook Wall: Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem – Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking

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