Social Media Users Turn to Unsuccessful Peer Profiles for Self-Esteem Boost

October 6, 2014
Aimee Simone, Associate Editor

Individuals in a negative mood spend more time viewing the social media profiles of unsuccessful peers.

Individuals in a negative mood spend more time viewing the social media profiles of unsuccessful peers.

When feeling down, individuals may be more likely to view the social media profiles of those in worse situations, the results of a recent study suggest.

The study, which will appear in the December 2014 issue of Computers in Human Behavior, analyzed how individuals use social media to manage their mood. For the analysis, 168 college students completed facial emotion recognition tests. Afterward, the authors of the study randomly induced positive or negative moods among the students by praising or criticizing their performance on the test, regardless of their actual scores.

The students were then asked to review a new social networking site, which included the profile pages of 8 fictitious individuals. Each profile included ratings based on the individual’s career success and attractiveness. Half of the profiles had high careers and attractiveness ratings, while the other half had low ratings. Because the students could not view photos of the individuals or any information that would reveal actual career or academic success, physical appearance, or romantic relationships, the only real differentiating factors between the profiles were the ratings.

Overall, the students tended to spend more time viewing the profile pages of those who were rated as successful and attractive. However, students who had been induced into a negative mood spent significantly more time viewing the profiles of those rated unsuccessful and unattractive.

“If you need a self-esteem boost, you’re going to look at people worse off than you,” said study co-author Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, PhD, MA, in a press release. “You’re probably not going to be looking at the people who just got a great new job or just got married. One of the great appeals of social network sites is that they allow people to manage their moods by choosing who they want to compare themselves to.”