Published December 13, 2012
You may want to think twice after posting a new photo or update to your Facebook profile. That’s because new research has found that social media use can lower some users' sense of self-control over their lives.
"Using online social networks can have a positive effect on self-esteem and well-being. However, these increased feelings of self-worth can have a detrimental effect on behavior," said researchers Keith Wilcox of Columbia University and Andrew Stephen of the University of Pittsburgh. "Because consumers care about the image they present to close friends, social network use enhances self-esteem in users who are focused on close friends while browsing their social network. This momentary increase in self-esteem leads them to display less self-control after browsing a social network."
In other words, social media users had more self-esteem after using networks like Facebook. However, that momentary improvement in self-esteem lowered their self-control and led them to indulge in a number of negative behaviors.
In particular, the researchers found that social media users were more likely to binge eat and have a higher body-mass index. Frequent Facebook users also were more likely to have certain financial problems, including a lower credit score and higher levels of debt.
The researchers tied these feelings to the observation that social media users are less likely to exhibit modesty on their profiles, since feedback is not immediate.
"These results are concerning given the increased time people spend using social networks, as well as the worldwide proliferation of access to social networks anywhere, anytime via smartphones and other gadgets," Wilcox and Stephen wrote. "Given that self-control is important for maintaining social order and personal well-being, this subtle effect could have widespread impact.
"This is particularly true for adolescents and young adults who are the heaviest users of social networks and have grown up using social networks as a normal part of their daily lives."
The research was based on the responses of 541 Facebook users in the United States. The research will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.