“Feeling Better But Doing Worse” The Positive and Negative Effects of Facebook Self-Presentation

RoutledgeIn a recent study by Routledge Journal’s Media Psychology, entitled “Feeling Better But Doing Worse: Effects of Facebook Self-Presentation on Implicit Self Esteem and Cognitive Task Performance,” author Catalina Toma Ph.D. uses self-affirmation theory to make predictions about the effect of Facebook profile self-presentation on two psychological outcomes: users’ self-esteem and performance on a cognitive task

How media content affects people’s subsequent perceptions and behaviours is a topic of long-standing interest to communication scholars. Studies have investigated the effects of television, newspaper, and magazine content on a range of perceptual and behavioural outcomes, such as self-esteem, cognitive task performance, stereotyping, aggression. and altruistic behaviours.

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“Previous research has demonstrated that browsing one’s own Facebook profile is a self-affirming activity, in the sense that it replenishes feelings of self-worth and self-integrity,” explains Toma. “This is the case because Facebook profiles represent users as embedded in a network of meaningful relationships, and highlight the positive aspects of their lives.” So scrolling through one’s own Facebook profile is like looking in a mirror that reflects the positive parts of oneself. In this study, Toma researched how looking at your own Facebook representation affects how you feel about yourself, and how that affects your performance in a simple cognitive task. This is important because feelings more positive about oneself may lead to less motivation to perform well on some types of tasks.

Facebook thumbs downToma found that after browsing their own Facebook profiles for 5 minutes, users did indeed report increased self-esteem. Then, users were asked to perform a cognitive task such as counting down from a large number by intervals of 7 as quickly and accurately as possible, for 2 minutes. In addition to elevated self-esteem, users attempted to answer fewer questions than those in a control group. “This suggests that Facebook profile exposure reduces users’ motivation to perform well in a cognitive task, but not their ability to do so,” says Toma. “This pattern of results is consistent with self-affirmation theory, which claims that when people’s self-worth is secured, they no longer need to engage in additional activities to increase self-worth. In this case, performing well in a cognitive task could have been such an activity.”

Toma suggests that “more research is necessary to investigate whether Facebook profile browsing negatively affects more complex cognitive tasks, as well as tasks with real-world implications (e.g., grades).” But this particular study indicates that there are both positive and negative effects of Facebook profile self-presentation. On the positive side, it increases self-esteem. But on the negative side, browsing one’s Facebook profile may in fact decrease one’s motivation to perform in a cognitive task.

Media Psychology CoverTo get more information on this study, including how its results were calculated and determined visit:


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