The Impact of Social Media on Motivation and Self-Image


  The Impact of Social Media on Motivation and Self-Image

Social media has become a crucial part of our everyday life. With more than half of American adults using social media, it is no surprise that spending time online has become a part of the average person's daily routine. Social media allows us to connect with people across the world and provide an emotional release in ways that were previously unheard of. Additionally, social media often enhances our self-image through "likes," "followers," and other online interactions. However, there is controversy surrounding how this phenomenon affects our motivation and self-image; studies have suggested that social media negatively impacts self-esteem by creating feelings of inadequacy in comparison to others portrayed on these sites.

One of the biggest problems with social media is comparing our lives and successes with those of others. With sites like Facebook, sharing one's life becomes commonplace, and this can lead to feelings of inadequacy as we judge ourselves against others portrayed on these platforms. In an article called "The Downside of Facebook," Dr. Elias Aboujaoude asserts that "the tremendous potential benefits of online social networking come at a price, namely an increase in anxiety and depression." This sentiment is further echoed by Salman Akhtar, who wrote an article entitled "Facebook Blues." In his article, he expresses the risks associated with using social media as a means to "enhance" one's self-image. Akhtar states that social media "is a double-edged sword, capable of both promoting higher self-esteem and lower self-esteem."

On the other hand, some researchers have suggested that social media has a positive impact on one's self-image. These researchers believe that the competition and comparisons displayed online can actually enhance one's self-image. For example, a study by Delia Baldassarri et al. used 1,170 Facebook users and found some evidence of positive effects of Facebook usage on both depression symptoms and body image concerns for women. Additionally, Dr. Michael McGuire's research has demonstrated that Twitter users tend to demonstrate an increase in self-esteem when compared to non-users and a decrease in depressive symptoms and body dissatisfaction. McGuire gave the example of a study on Twitter users where he found that those who used Twitter reported a greater sense of belonging to their community (i.e., they felt more connected to others) and, subsequently, they felt more "empowered." On the other hand, Twitterati users reported lower levels of depression overall than non-users.

Findings from McGuire's research have been corroborated in a separate study using Twitter users. Sarter et al. found that "Twitter users reported significantly higher levels of self-esteem compared to non-users," in addition to an increase in self-efficacy, a measure of one's ability to perform tasks.

In McGuire's research, he found that social media use was more uncommon within the African American and Latino population, which is also consistent with findings from Sarter et al.'s study where they explored both age and gender differences between Twitter users and non-users (i.e., there were no significant race or gender differences for either). Additionally, Sarter et al. reported that the older populations were less likely to use Twitter, which seems in contrast with McGuire's findings. However, McGuire's study focused on Twitter users who were employed by a higher education institution (i.e., they were technologically savvy), whereas Sarter et al.'s study had a much broader range of participants to choose from; thus, it is possible that these disparate findings are attributable to the specific sample used in each study.

It is interesting to note that both Delia Baldassarri et al.'s and McGuire's studies observed an increase in self-esteem among their respective samples of women. This is particularly interesting considering the theory that social media usage is more likely to impact women's self-esteem when compared to men. This idea was first introduced in a piece called "The Impact of Social-Networking Sites on Female Body Image" by Elizabeth Daniels et al. who asserted that 1 in 16 young women between the ages of 14 and 21 reported symptoms of depression via decreased self-confidence and feelings of loneliness after using social media sites.

It would seem, however, that female users may actually benefit from using social media (even if it is a small amount) because most studies have observed positive effects on mood or body image. In contrast with these findings, one study conducted in 2010 by Coyne et al. found that social media may have a direct negative impact on one's self-esteem. This study found that people who use Facebook frequently and spend a lot of time on the site experience a significant decline in their self-worth as compared to casual users who spend less time on Facebook. For example, this study found that "Facebook users experience lower levels of well-being than non-users" and that "their likelihood of being happy with their life is three times less than the non-user group."

Social media can be an addiction for some users; therefore, the amount of time spent on these sites is directly related to their emotional well being. However, this does not necessarily have to be the case. Research has demonstrated that it is possible for us to moderate our social media usage in order to maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem. For example, Clark et al. conducted a study in 2010 where they investigated the relationship between self-esteem and social media use among college students. Their goal was to determine whether or not overuse of social media was related to low self-esteem and if there were certain "warning signs" that could be helpful in identifying those students who may be experiencing such distress. Clark et al. found that many of their participants who experienced low self-esteem reported using electronic self-help programs and this was especially the case for those students who also had high levels of overuse of social media. These participants indicated that they stopped being on Facebook when they encountered specific negative experiences in their lives (i.e., it was time to "take a break" from excessive Facebook use).

Thus, it is possible for an individual to reduce his or her social media usage in order to maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem. However, some people may need to increase the amount of time spent on social media sites or decrease the frequency with which they engage with them in order to achieve this result.


Social media involves a complex array of topics and issues. Therefore, the connection between social media usage and depression is complex. Social media seems to have a positive effect on some users but at the same time it may have a detrimental impact on others. This does not necessarily mean that there are never any benefits to using social media; however, it is important for us to be able to recognize whether we are "Facebook addicted" or "Twitter dependent." If you or someone you know tends to spend too much time on these sites (or if you see any warning signs in their behavior), speak with them about this matter or consider speaking with a professional therapist who specializes in issues relating to: depression, anxiety and/or addiction.

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