Why Facebook Doesn't Help Boost Low Self-Esteem
by Leslie Meredith, TechNewsDaily Senior Writer
March 27 2012 04:04 PM ET
CREDIT: Sander van der Wel
In theory, Facebook should be great for people with low self-esteem to improve their friendships. No awkward silences, no weird looks. But a new study found that people with low self-esteem shoot themselves in the foot. That same negativity that turns people off in real life had the same effect online.
“We had this idea that Facebook could be a really fantastic place for people to strengthen their relationships,” said Amanda Forest, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo who co-authored the study with her adviser, Joanne Wood. They published their findings in the journal Psychological Science. People with low self-esteem are often uncomfortable sharing face-to-face, but Facebook makes it possible to share remotely, Forest said.
The pair used 10 coders — undergraduate Facebook users — to rate the last 10 Facebook updates from 177 student volunteers who had taken a psychological test to determine their levels of self-esteem. Those on the low end of the scale bombarded their friends with negative tidbits about their lives — a class was too hard, their schedules sucked — while kids with high self-esteem posted overwhelmingly positive comments.
When the coders were asked how much they liked each participant, it was no surprise that the constant complainers weren't liked much at all.
Forest said that people with low self-esteem may feel safe making personal disclosures on Facebook – but they may not be helping themselves.
“If you’re talking to somebody in person and you say something, you might get some indication that they don’t like it, that they’re sick of hearing your negativity,” Forest said. These social cues could prompt people to change their behavior. But on Facebook, negativity is usually met with silence — people don't comment.
But not always. Post something out of character on Facebook — positive or negative — and friends respond.
When highly positive people made the occasional negative post, their friends responded in greater numbers. The same held true for naysaysers — say something good, and Facebook friends talked back.