Is Facebook Undermining Our Self-Control? Social Media and Self-Esteem


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Will Facebook make you fat? Image by The Culinary Geek.

Will Facebook make you fat? Image by TheCulinaryGeek

Do you feel a bit of a buzz after viewing your Facebook page?  It turns out you’re not alone.  Research scheduled to be published in June in the Journal of Consumer Research by Drs. Keith Wilcox and Andrew Stephen from Columbia Business School and Pittsburgh University respectively, found that when people interact with close friends on social media, they get a boost in self-esteem.  Unfortunately, they also demonstrate less self control.

Friends, Acquaintances, and Self-Esteem

The findings of the research, which consisted of five related studies to isolate contributing factors, found that participants who interacted with Facebook friends, or those people to whom they have strong ties, experienced a boost in self-esteem.  Interacting on Facebook with those with whom we have weak ties, mere acquaintances, did not boost esteem.

The flip side is that those who interacted with Facebook friends had higher body mass indexes, or BMIs,  and higher credit card debt than those who interacted primarily with Facebook acquaintances. Warm and fuzzy feelings had study participants choosing cookies over granola bars in one study, and spending less time on a mental task in another.

When asked if another factor, such as poor health, might lead some with higher BMIs and debt to seek out friends via the Internet.  Dr. Stephen replied, in an exclusive interview with Decoded Science, that in the study the researchers did “control for demographic factors that are known to be related to health and BMI and still find the effect.”

Spending time online can increase “social capital” for those with low life satisfaction. Dr. Stephen noted that online friends represent “relationships that may produce future benefits.”  The challenge for individuals is to harness this social capital in a positive manner.

Dr. Stephen reported finding no differences between the responses of men and women to social media.

Social Media Study: Implications for Individuals

Decoded Science asked Dr. Stephen to identify the most important implications of this research. Examining “psychological consequences of Facebook use” was, he stated, an important contribution.  He continued, “with this knowledge people can be more cognizant of how Facebook usage can affect their behaviors and choices as consumers.” In other words, you need to know that time on Facebook may make you both fat and poor.

Scams on Social Networks

The research by Drs. Wilcox and Stephen help illuminate why we are so vulnerable on social media. In general, having less self control leads to poor decisions.  Online privacy writer Duran Inci warned in 2011 of the danger of being too trusting on social media sites.  On, a website offering various online services, Inci wrote, “Anyone from a CFO of a major credit union to a 14-year-old girl, or a new college graduate to a retired senior citizen, is a potential for those that hunt out and prey upon unsuspecting social network users.”

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