NEW YORK – While it may be tempting to use social media platforms to craft a highly curated and idealized version of ourselves, new research from Columbia Business School finds that when it comes to social media, authentic self-expression is more likely to benefit overall wellbeing and happiness. In fact, taking cues from users like model and social-media celebrity Chrissy Teigen – who is known to use her platform to voice her honest opinions on everything from pop culture to politics while sharing unvarnished views into her daily life – can impact mental health for the better.
Social media has become a central part of modern life. Accodring to Statista, nearly 80% of Americans use some form of it, three quarters of users check their accounts on a daily basis, and on average, users are spending at least 30 minutes of their day on these accounts. In the study – Authentic Self-Expression on Social Media is Associated with Greater Subjective Well-Being – Sandra Matz, the David W. Zalaznick Associate Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, Sheena Iyengar, the S. T. Lee Professor of Business and Chazen Senior Scholar at Columbia Business School, Management PhD candidate Erica Bailey, and Kellogg School of Management postdoctoral fellow Youyou Wu, explore the tension social media users feel between presenting themselves authentically or in an idealized way. Through research designed to test the psychological impact of prioritizing one over the other, the researchers find that those users who share authentic accounts of their life benefit psychologically and lead overall happier lives.
“Social media allows users a vast amount of control in deciding the persona they wish to show the world. With that control comes the temptation to create our ‘best self,’” said Columbia Business School Professor Sandra Matz. “We show that resisting this temptation and instead sharing one’s authentic day-to-day experiences is critical when it comes to users’ life satisfaction and happiness.”
“One thing is clear – how someone is engaging on social media has a heavy impact on what they’re getting out of it,” said Columbia Business School Professor Sheena Iyengar. “The healthiest decision someone can make for their happiness and wellbeing while on social media is to stay true to themselves and share their life as it is and not as they wish it to be.”
Differing from prior investigations of authenticity and well-being which have relied solely on self-reported measures, the researchers developed their conclusions using two different studies. The first captured authenticity using observations of actual behavior rather than self-reports. By analysing the Facebook profiles of 10,560 users to predict their Big Five personality traits (Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) from their Facebook Likes and status updates, and comparing those predictions to people’s self-reported personality profiles, the researchers found that authentic self-expression on social media was correlated with greater life satisfaction, an important component of overall well-being.
To support their causal claim that authentic self-expression on social media would lead to higher levels of well-being, the researchers then recruited 90 college students for a two-week experiment. Participants were asked to complete two stages – Stage 1 required them to use their social media profiles to post authentically for seven days and stage 2 reversed instructions to require them to post in a self-idealized way for another seven days. After each 7-day period, the participants completed surveys tracking their wellbeing, allowing the researchers to compare well-being in the week that participants posted authenticity to well-being in the week that they posted in a self-idealized way.
While the researchers didn’t delve into whether authentic social media use is better or worse than not using social media at all, they did find evidence that all individuals regardless of personality traits could benefit from being authentic on social media – – be they socially desirable or not.
“Whether or not engaging with social media helps or hurts a person’s well-being is driven in part by how they’re using those platforms to express themselves,” said PhD candidate and corresponding author Erica Bailey. “What our paper shows is that if people want to take part in social media, they should use it to share what they really care about, what they are actually doing, and how they truly feel.”
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researchers
Sandra Matz takes a Big Data approach to studying human behavior in a variety of business-related domains. She combines methodologies from psychology and computer...Read more.
Sheena S. Iyengar is the inaugural S.T. Lee Professor of Business in the Management Division at Columbia Business School, and...Read more.