For Instagram’s one billion users, life can be an endless stream of stunning imagery and viral ‘stories’.
But for young people, life on the massively influential social media platform can also generate feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, as well as hurting their self-esteem.
That’s the finding from a study at The University of Notre Dame Australia examining the effects of Instagram on the wellbeing of young female university students.
PhD student Carmen Papaluca presented students aged 18 to 25 years with a range of images of fitness, beauty, nutrition, health, travel and work.
“Students in their late-teens and early-twenties were drawn to the images of fitness and beauty. But rather than positive reactions, the images generated feelings of inadequacy and negative self-perception,” Papaluca says.
“While images related to fitness encouraged students to keep active, they were motivated to do so from a negative perspective – to help them overcome their perceived physical shortcomings.”
The study also found the students manipulated their own Instagram accounts – including using fake images – to cope with feelings of inadequacy and envy they experienced while using the social media platform.
“Despite the negative aspects, they all felt the need to document their own lives on Instagram in order to seek validation, try to improve their popularity and self-esteem through ‘likes’ and comments,” Papluca says.
“It’s a kind of vicious cycle and, alarmingly, these feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem are often generated from within their own friendship circles.”
Papaluca now plans to study the impact of Instagram on wellbeing among female adolescents.
She also wants to use her collective research to inform schools and policy makers about the negative implications of social media platforms.
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