One thing psychologists have been interested in for a long time is the extent to which people put their “true selves” forward vs. projecting “false selves.” With the rise of social media, this question has taken an interesting digital twist.
On Facebook, for example, it’s possible to use your account to reflect who you really are, or to manufacture an image of someone you’re not. We all “curate” our social media accounts to some extent, but the gap between the Facebook self and the real self is wider or narrower for different people.
Recently, researchers from the University of Tasmania decided to look at whether portraying a more or less authentic self on Facebook was related to overall wellbeing and social fulfullment.
To gain insight into this question, the researchers asked 164 people to fill out a personality questionnaire, first as their real self, then as the self they present on Facebook. The difference between the two questionnaires became a measure of how much people projected false selves on Facebook.
The participants were then asked to fill out several other assessments about overall mood, social functioning, wellbeing and so on. Tallying up the results, the researchers noticed two interesting trends.
First, people who had less discrepancy between their Facebook selves and true selves reported being significantly more socially connected. Second, these people were also less stressed than those whose true selves and social media selves diverged more.
The study didn’t look at which way the causation went – that is, whether some people project more artificial images of themselves on Facebook because they’re already less socially connected and more stressed, whether being less authentic in online communication is more isolating and stressful, or (quite possibly) whether some combination of the two is going on. But it does show that keeping it real on Facebook is associated with being more connected and less stressed.
These results are in line with a growing consensus that using Facebook isn’t inherently healthy or unhealthy, but that it depends on how you use it. Other studies published in the last month have linked both positive and negative emotions to Facebook use.
On one hand, a study published in Midwifery found that Facebook use predicts body image dissatisfaction among pregnant women. On the other hand, another study showed that priming college students to think about social media reduces perceptions of pain by increasing feelings of connectedness.
So the upshot is that Facebook can be helpful for creating personal connections and feeling socially fulfilled, if it’s used well – and part of using it well seems to be about communicating an authentic self.