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Can Facebook and MySpace Boost Self-esteem?

Update Date: Jun 26, 2012 11:31 AM EDT
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Facebook is multifaceted - you can connect with old friends, play games and share pictures. But, can it make you feel better about yourself? That's what researchers at University of Georgia are saying.

According to the research what people may really "like" about social networking are themselves.

"Despite the name 'social networks,' much user activity on networking sites is self-focused," said Brittany Gentile, a UGA doctoral candidate who looked at the effects of social networks on self-esteem and narcissism.

Facebook has 900 million active users and currently stands as one of the most visited sites on the web, second only to Google. MySpace reported 25 million users as of June 2012.

According to the research, published online this month by the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the 526 million people who log on to Facebook every day may be boosting their self-esteem in the process.

151 students, ages 18-22, completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory as a part of the study. The students were asked to either edit their social networking page on MySpace or Facebook or to use Google Maps. Those who edited their MySpace page later scored higher on a measure of narcissism, while those who spent time on their Facebook page scored higher on self-esteem.

MySpace users participated in the experiment in 2008, when the site had 115 million active users. Facebook users participated in 2011. On both MySpace and Facebook, students scoring higher in narcissism reported having more friends on the site.

"The NPI measures trait narcissism, which is a stable personality trait," Gentile said. "But spending 15 minutes editing a MySpace page and writing about its meaning was enough to alter self-reports of this trait, suggesting that social networking sites may be a significant influence on the development of personality and identity."

The differences in site format may be one reason why MySpace led to higher narcissism whereas Facebook merely produced higher self-esteem.

"The two sites operate differently," Gentile said. "On MySpace you don't really interact with other people. The pages resemble personal webpages, and a lot of people have become famous on MySpace, whereas Facebook has a standard profile and a company message that sharing will improve the world."

Several previous studies found increases over the generations in both self-esteem and narcissism. These new experiments suggest the increasing popularity of social networking sites may play a role in those trends.

"Social networking sites are a product and a cause of a society that is self-absorbed," Campbell said. "Narcissism and self-esteem began to rise in the 1980s. Because Facebook came on the scene only seven years ago, it wasn't the original cause of the increases. It may be just another enforcer."

Social networking should not be seen as an answer to building self-esteem, he said, but the fact that people may get a jolt when logging on doesn't mean they should stop either.

"Ideally, you get self-esteem from having strong relationships and achieving goals that are reasonable and age-appropriate," Campbell said. "Ideally, self-esteem is not something you should take a short cut to find. It is a consequence of a good life, not something you chase."

For the full research article, see www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563212001409.

 

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