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It turns out, Facebook can be a lot like those funhouse mirrors that make you look a lot taller and thinner than you are. For some people, just viewing your life through the lens of your Facebook profile can make you feel better about yourself.
That's the finding of new research that suggests the popular social network can improve self-esteem, though it may not be so great for improving productivity.
Research by Catalina Toma, an assistant professor of communication arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, came to those conclusions by examining Facebook users' reactions after looking at the platform. Toma found that self-esteem was improved after spending five minutes looking at their own profiles. Using the Implicit Association Test, which measures attitudes and feelings that people may not want to report, Toma found that users had more positive associations with words such as "me," "my," "I" and "myself" after looking at Facebook.
"Our culture places great value on having high self-esteem," Toma said. "For this reason, people typically inflate their level of self-esteem in self-report questionnaires. The Implicit Association Test removes this bias. If you have high self-esteem, then you can very quickly associate words related to yourself with positive evaluations, but have a difficult time associating words related to yourself with negative evaluations. But if you have low self-esteem, the opposite is true."
Not only did looking at Facebook improve self-esteem, but it also changed the behavior of users as well. To prove this, Toma had participants perform a simple serial subtraction task where participants were asked to count down from large numbers in intervals of seven. The carryover of positive self-esteem actually caused participants to perform worse on that task. Toma believes that is the result of a decreased motivation to perform well among Facebook users who had experienced self-esteem boosts.
"Performing well in a task can boost feelings of self-worth," Toma said. "However, if you already feel good about yourself because you looked at your Facebook profile, there is no psychological need to increase your self-worth by doing well in a laboratory task."
Though these findings may seem to have a big impact on all Facebook users, Toma warns people not to jump to any conclusions when tying Facebook to decreases in productivity.
"This study shows that exposure to your own Facebook profile reduces motivation to perform well in a simple, hypothetical task," Toma said. "It does not show that Facebook use negatively affects college students’ grades, for example. Future work is necessary to investigate the psychological effects of other Facebook activities, such as examining others’ profiles or reading the newsfeed."
The research will be published in the June issue of Media Psychology.