Is Using Instagram Beneficial to Well-being?

Does using Instagram create a sense of belonging?

Posted Nov 27, 2019

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Group selfie
Source: Sydra Productions/Shutterstock

Does using social media has a positive or negative affect on our wellbeing?  Some research suggests that social media might have a positive influence on life satisfaction, while other research connects social media use with anxiety, depression and loneliness.  Much of the debate surrounding this argument may also be related to the type of social media platform individuals use, the various functions of these, or a person’s motivation for using a particular platform.

Motivations for using social media

People cite various reasons for using social media, with some of the more commonly given reasons being:

  • To build and maintain relationships
  • To manage the impressions they give to others
  • To catalogue the events in their lives

Consequently, online behaviour may differ depending on exactly what people are attempting to achieve.  For example, those who use social media to obtain information on other users may post less frequently, than those who are documenting their life events on social media.  It is also possible that the reasons for using social media might have a positive impact on users if they feel that their needs in using it are being met.

Benefits of using social media

People who feel a sense of belonging say that they have greater amounts of relationship satisfaction, reduced loneliness and higher self-esteem.  Furthermore, achieving a sense of belonging is a great motivator for social media use especially the sharing of images.  To date, the focus of most research has been to look at social media use and depression, although there is less research on using it and a person’s sense of belonging. 

A person’s sense of social support consists of the actual support we receive from others and also any anticipated support we feel we might receive through social interaction.  Understandably, social support is important for our well-being and good health.  A study by Oh, Ozkaya and LaRose (2014) found that peoples’ motivations for social media use (such as sense of belonging) as opposed to the frequency of social media use was a better indicator of a person’s sense of social support.

Why might Instagram be different?

Instagram is a photo sharing social media platform, where users can ‘like’ or comment on the photos other post.  It is different in that unlike other popular social media platforms, users can follow other people, without the person they follow reciprocating.  Therefore, users may follow many other people without being followed back in return.  Some previous research has found that looking at Instagram posts predicts depression, and depression in turn predicts posting on Instagram.  One explanation to account for this is that posting images may be a method of coping with life, or may serve as a distraction. 

However, Instagram use may also be motivated by a sense of belonging, which was an issue investigated by Dorothy Wong and colleagues.  These researchers also looked at the extent to which Instagram use affects a user’s sense or feeling of social support (Wong, Amon, & Keep, 2019).  In summary, their study examined how the amount of online interaction was motivated by a sense of belonging and in turn affected the social support they got from using Instagram.  They employed 313 Instagram users who completed a survey about their reasons for using Instagram, their frequency of Instagram use, and the perceived social support derived from doing this. 

What they found

Firstly, the researchers found that the desire to belong did predict the frequency of viewing posts, liking posts and posting images on Instagram.  This is explained by the fact that the more motivated a person is for a desire to belong the more often they will behave in a way (using Instagram) which achieves this goal.  In other words, people who are motivated by the desire for social connection, will use Instagram to foster interaction with other users by inviting comments and likes on their posts. 

Frequency of Instagram use did not predict the amount of social support that users felt.  A possible reason for this is that the types of feedback from other users in social media may impact on well-being in different ways.  Instagram users who receive enough likes to gratify their needs would be likely to report positive outcomes, whereas users who receive lower levels of positive feedback (validation) would report lower levels of social support.

However, being motivated by a sense of belonging only predicted some of the measures of social support.  A possible explanation for this is that a person who values feeling a sense of belonging would also value interpersonal interactions, and build relationships and networks of support offline and online.  It is also possible that other factors might determine the relationship between belonging and social support.

Overall than it seems that Instagram use has some benefits for our well-being in giving users a sense of belonging.

References

Oh, H.J., Ozkaya, E. & LaRose, R. (2014) ‘How does online social networking enhance life satisfaction? The relationships among online supportive interaction, affect, perceived social support, sense of community, and life satisfaction.’  Computers in Human Behaviour. 30 69–78.

Wong, D. Amon, K. L. & Keep, M. (2019) ‘Desire to Belong Affects Instagram Behavior and Perceived Social Support.’ Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, 22, (7), 465-471.