Vitiuk Viktor/Shutterstock
Source: Vitiuk Viktor/Shutterstock

‘The attention I get from social media is important to me’, ‘I consider someone to be popular based on the amount of likes they get in social media’.  As a user of social media, do you consider these statements to be accurate descriptions of you, or are you not concerned or influenced by such things?

In our study, we hypothesised that the way in which people use social media would be related to their personality and self-esteem.  We asked people to respond to a set of twenty five statements by reporting the extent to which they agreed with each.  The statements specifically asked the participants about the ways in which people appreciate being valued in social media.  For example, ‘it feels good to be mentioned in social media’ or ‘social media is part of my life’. 

Responses to our statements were received from 332 people ranging in age from 18 to 78 of whom 111 were male and 220 female.  They reported using between 1 and 10 types of social media, with the majority 23% using 3 types of media, and 90% using between 1 and 5 types.  Seventy per cent of our respondents also reported posting in social media anything between 1 and 5 times per day.  

Types of Validation in Social Media

We grouped the 25 statements we used using a statistical technique known as Factor Analysis, and ended up with six different groupings, which we named as follows. 

  • Effort in social media, which was characterised by asking for likes or even paying to get more validation. 
  • Feeling Good, which referred to the ways in which receiving likes and validation makes one feel good about oneself or makes one feel better when feeling down. 
  • Taking positive steps, included things such as deleting a post that did not receive many likes. 
  • Honesty in posting, for example saying that you always present yourself accurately in social media. 
  • Blindness in social media, for example accepting friend requests from people we don’t know or posting information inconsistent with our beliefs just to get likes. 
  • Positive postings. An example of this was simply ‘I always post positive things about myself’.

Self-Esteem and Personality

Our survey also measured self-esteem and personality on five dimensions as follows:

  • Self-esteem, which can be defined as having confidence and satisfaction in oneself and one’s abilities.
  • Extraversion, defined in terms of being assertive, sociable and outgoing.
  • Agreeableness, for example being warm, sympathetic and not demanding.
  • Conscientiousness, characterised by being efficient, organised and disciplined.
  • Neuroticism, which is the tendency to be irritable moody and depressed.
  • Openness, artistic imaginative, curious and unconventional.

Self-esteem was measured using the Rosenberg self-esteem scale (Rosenberg, 1965) and personality was measured using the Big Five Inventory (John & Srivastava, 1999).

How is validation in social media related to self-esteem and personality?

We found several ways in which our six identified types of validation in social media were related to self-esteem and personality.

Firstly, high levels of effort in social media (positive efforts to get more likes, such as asking others or even paying) was related to low levels of self-esteem.  High levels of effort in social media was also related to low levels of agreeableness, lack of trust, warmth or modesty, low levels of conscientiousness, carelessness, impulsiveness and disorganisation, and low levels of openness, being negative about new experiences or being unimaginative.

Taking positive steps in social media such as deleting posts or making a picture a profile picture on the grounds of it receiving many likes was also related to low levels of self-esteem, and similar to the above was also related to low conscientiousness and low openness.

The honesty factor which included stating that amount of likes are unimportant and presenting oneself honestly in social media reporting was positively related to extraversion.  Therefore people who are unconcerned with likes and present themselves honestly seem to be more sociable and outgoing as measured on the personality scale. 

Accepting friend requests from people we don’t know or posting information inconsistent with our beliefs just to get likes, which contributed to our measure of blindness in social media was related to low levels of conscientiousness.  In other words, this kind of behaviour on social media was related to impulsiveness and being disorganised.

Positive posting, such as reporting that I always post positive things about myself, was related to higher levels of self-esteem (having confidence in one’s abilities) and low levels of neuroticism, emotional stability, contentment and self-confidence.

Finally, we found that none of the personality or self-esteem measures was related to feeling good, which referred to the ways in which receiving likes and validation makes one feel good about oneself or makes one feel better when feeling down. 

The above study is a small-scale preliminary study. However, it does indicate that the way in which we operate in social media is to some extent linked to personality and self-esteem.

References

  • John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (Vol. 2, pp. 102–138). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Dedication

Katie Stansfield and Emily Graff for data collection.

My students, Leah Taylor, Emma-Louise Dyer, Robyn Andrews, Emily Welsby and Doris Luha, for helping generate the items on the validation scale, data collection and general enthusiasm.

Visit my website www.martingraff.com and follow me on Twitter @martingraff007 or YouTube.

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