The anonymity and asynchronous nature of the internet offers individuals the opportunity to be whoever they want – just watch the latest episode of ‘Catfish’ to see this in action. Although Facebook is regularly labelled as ‘Fakebook’, presenting a fake version of yourself on this social networking site may actually take a detrimental toll on your mental health. Recent psychology research conducted by Rachel Grieve and Jarrah Watkinson at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia has demonstrated that presenting a version of yourself on Facebook that is too different from your true self may actually be associated with high stress and feelings of social disconnectedness.
The theory of true self is a well-grounded psychological theory that involves the idea that many individuals possess personal qualities that are important to their identity (i.e., their true self), however, they may find it difficult to express these qualities to others in everyday life. This may be something as light hearted as your celebrity crush or love of daggy music – or more serious confessions about your sexuality or mental health issues. Although these qualities may not always be favourable, they are important to one’s identity, and people are therefore intrinsically motivated to have their true self acknowledged and validated by others.
A large amount of scientific research has shown that people who are comfortable expressing their authentic selves to others during traditional offline interactions have much greater wellbeing than those who do not (think about how good it feels after catching up with friends whom you feel you can just be yourself with). However, little is currently known about whether the psychological benefits of presenting your true self in traditional social interactions can also be fostered when presenting your true self on an online platform, such as on Facebook.
Grieve and Watkinson’s study involved 164 Facebook users aged between 18 and 55 who completed two personality questionnaires – one as their true self, and the other as the persona they present on Facebook.
It was found that the more one’s true self deviated from their Facebook persona, the greater their stress levels, as well as the more socially disconnected from others they felt. However, this relationship also goes the other way – the more similar one’s true self and Facebook persona are, the lower their stress, and the greater their feelings of social connectedness.
These results are interesting as they show that social media is not that different to the offline world – we still interact with others in a similar way, and we feel better when others have an accurate view of who we are.
Previous research has suggested that individuals are motivated to use Facebook due to our inherent desire to belong to a group and be an important part of something greater than ourselves. Based on the results of Grieve and Watkinson’s research, individuals who express their true self on Facebook may find that others are accepting of their true self, enabling them to have greater feelings of belonging. Given that belongingness is greatly associated with social connectedness, having others accept us as who we truly are may allow us to feel more socially connected. Additionally, it may be that presenting ourselves authentically on Facebook requires less emotional labour than presenting a fake version, therefore resulting in less stress.
So is Facebook bad for your mental health?
Given that 1.79 billion people regularly use Facebook, the effect of this site on its user’s psychological wellbeing is paramount. It is often claimed that Facebook is unhealthy for individual’s mental health – however, this research has demonstrated that there is potential for it to benefit user’s mental wellbeing. Thus, mental health professionals may consider the positive role Facebook can play in their client’s lives.
What do you think? How do you use Facebook, and have you ever considered how the way you use the site makes you feel? Let me know in the comments below!
Enjoyed this article? We've got loads more useful content to help you and your organisation successed in the digital world; from User Experience best practices, to Web Development insights and business strategies. Subscribe to our Blog now and we'll send you a quick email each time we publish a new article.