Does Facebook enhance your self-esteem or does the popular method of connecting with people and "making friends," actually detract from a strong sense of self? There appears to be conflicting perceptions and evidence regarding this question.
Facebook has more than 750 million users worldwide. It facilitates people keeping in touch online with a network of "friends" and the size of these networks varies from a handful to hundreds of thousands. One of the things that has not been clear is whether there is any relationship between the number of friends a person has and the number of their real-life friends. Some experts have observed anectodally that social network friends are very different than real-life friends.
To provide a more scientific perspective, researcher Geraint Rees, and his colleagues at the University College of London examined the fMRI brain scans of 125 frequent Facebook users. After the scans, the number of online and offline friends were recorded. The researchers reported that the typical subject had on average, 300 friends on Facebook. They concluded that having more friends online did not significantly make particular regions of the brain larger or more active. However, the researchers concluded there was a positive correlation between the number of friends the subjects had online with the number of friends they had offline.
Jeffrey Hancock, a professor of communication at Cornell University and author of a study on Facebook's psychological effects, argues that Facebook boosts self-esteem: "Unlike a mirror, which reminds us of who we really are and may have a negative effect on self-esteem if that image doesn't match with our idea, Facebook can show a positive version of ourselves. We're not saying that it's a deceptive version of self, but it's a positive one."
A study by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., published in Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking found that viewing and editing your Facebook profile could boost your self-esteem. This research is based on Objective Self-Awareness theory, as reported by Adoree Durayappah, in a Psychology Today article. The theory suggests that people the view the self as both a subject and an object, and that Facebook can be a tool to promote greater self-awareness.
Not so, argues recent researchers.
According to research by Amanda Forrest of the University of California and Joanne Wood at Waterloo University, published in Psychological Science, they found those with low self-esteem feel safer sharing on Facebook. However, the study also found that those with low self-esteem frequently post updates that work against them. They tend to criticize their friends with negative details of their lives, making them less likeable as "friends." Forrest and Wood also found that those people with high self-esteem, who usually posted more positive updates, received more positive responses.
Dilney Goncaleves, at the IE Business School in Madrid, conducted a research study which argues that much of how we judge our success in life is by comparison with others: " The problem is that Facebook gives us a limited view of our friends' lives, and that view tends to be unrealistically positive." He added that the more friends you have, the more likely you are to spend your day enviously reading about someone else's paradise vacation, new girlfriend or job promotion.
Psychology researcher Soraya Mehdizadeh at York University in Toronto, conducted a study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking of 100 Facebook users and measured activities such as photo sharing, wall postings and status updates and frequency and duration of use. After measuring each subject using the Narcissism Personality Inventory and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, Mehdizadeh discovered that narcissists and people with lower self-esteem were more likely to spend more than a hour a day on Facebook and were more prone to post self-promotional photos and showcase themselves through status updates and wall activity.
Alex Jordan at Stanford University conducted a study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, of 80 Facebook users, focusing on the number of positive and negative experience their peers were experiencing. He found they consistently over-estimated the fun their friends were having and underestimated their negative or unhappy experiences. He concluded that Facebook may be worsening the tendency to thin everyone else is enjoying themselves more than you are. "By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people's lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles' hell of human nature. And women may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses," Jordon contends.
So there may a dark lining to the shiny cloud of Facebook, which is obviously growing in use.