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Impact of Facebook on Self-esteem

Updated on December 20, 2012

Facebook can impact self-esteem, study finds.

Whereas mirrors cause people to self-reflect and perhaps feel negative, editing a Facebook profile by self-selecting images can boost self-esteem, according to a Cornell University study.
Whereas mirrors cause people to self-reflect and perhaps feel negative, editing a Facebook profile by self-selecting images can boost self-esteem, according to a Cornell University study. | Source

The impact of mirrors and Facebook on self-esteem

A strange thing happened thirteen years ago when we moved into our new, first-ones-to-live-here, house. After having pushed the builder through seemingly endless delays, we finally were able to get a certificate of occupancy, close the sale, and move into our new home. The only catch was that it was not 100% complete. The final touches were to take place over the course of the following week and it was during that time that we found ourselves living without mirrors.

Unless you have lived without mirrors for any length of time, you probably take seeing your own reflection a few times a day for granted. Afterall, we come face-to-face with ourselves each day when we brush our teeth or hair; when we shave or apply makeup; or when we're just passing through a bathroom or bedroom.

But, unless you're one of the lucky ones with top-notch self-esteem, mirrors may do your psyche more harm than good. And interestingly, a 2011 study reveals that having a Facebook profile can have the opposite effect of mirrors and actually help in the process of building self-esteem.

Psychological benefits of having a Facebook profile: the mirror study

Sixty-three Cornell University students were recruited to participate in a study, which in essence compared two models of self-perception: Ojective Self-Awareness and Hyperpersonal Model. The research involved determining whether or not viewing one's Facebook profile impacted self-esteem.

The student participants were divided into three groups:

  • Group 1 sat in front of computers with their Facebook profiles visible on the screen. They were allowed to edit their Facebook profile if they chose, but they could only view their own profile and accompanying tabs.
  • Group 2 sat in front of computers that were turned off.
  • Group 3 sat in front of computers that were turned off but that also had a mirror propped against the screen.

The non-Facebook groups (groups 2 & 3) took a quiz questioning their self-views as a measurement of self-esteem. After sitting there for three minutes and possibly editing their profiles, the Facebook group (group 1) was given an identical quiz.

The Facebook and Mirror experiment revealed that:

  • Group 1 had a more positive self-view, and it was even more positive if the participant had edited their Facebook profile during the study.
  • Group 2 showed no elevation in self-esteem
  • Group 3 showed no elevation in self-esteem.

Overall, the take-away from this study, “Mirror, Mirror on my Facebook Wall: Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem,” was that, in fact Facebook can have a positive influence on the self-esteem of college students. At the very least, a short term boost in self-esteem is possible.

Mirrors may have a negative effect on self-esteem.

Self-reflection, literally in a mirror, may negatively impact self-esteem if the reflection differs from one's ideal-self.
Self-reflection, literally in a mirror, may negatively impact self-esteem if the reflection differs from one's ideal-self. | Source

The mirror: self-reflection

Self-Reflection occurs when seeing one's reflection in a mirror, like group 3 did in the study, or in any other type of playback media, such as a video recording. One's limits and shortcomings are staring right back at him or her. Since a mirror represents reality, negative effects can occur if the reflection does not match one's ideal self. In other words, looking in a mirror can be a "downer."

Psychologists and sociologists call these feelings that are triggered when seeing oneself in a mirror objective self awareness. Objective self awareness is internal reflection occurring when the focus of attention is on one's self, thoughts, actions, and feelings.

Facebook profile: self-selection

Think of self-selection as the opposite of self-reflection. If self-reflection represents reality or an internal examination of self, then self-selection represents how people want other people to view them. This is called the Hyperpersonal Model and can also be thought of as self-presentation. So instead of one's self awareness being based on internal reflection, it becomes a reflection of the ideas about one's self that the person attributes to others.

Psychologists and sociologists call this phenomenon the Looking Glass Self. Simply put, the self-view an individual forms is created by imagining what others think of his or her appearance or behavior. This is the process that group 1 in the study was engaged in. Basically, Facebook users, and users of any social media, can filter out anything that reflects badly upon themselves.

How Facebook can build self-esteem

When understanding how self-reflection and self-selection impact one's self-esteem, it's not too hard to see how those two views come into play when interacting with social media. Think about it, if you have a Facebook profile, you don't wake up in the morning, snap a photo first thing, and upload it as a Facebook profile image for the world to see. The way people behave on Facebook and other social media is by using self-selection. In other words, you put your best foot forward. defines the idiom, "putting your best foot forward," as:

To act in a way that causes other people to have a good opinion of you.

And isn't that how most people treat the presentation of themselves on social media? Don't most people put their best face forward? The most flattering self-selected photos are usually chosen in order to present a certain image -- the way the person would like others to perceive him or her. Perhaps happy group photos are selected to give the impression that one is a fun, free-spirit, always enjoying the company of friends. Or maybe a mother chooses a sweet image of herself with her children so that her friends will reflect upon her as a loving, always-there type of mom. No matter the case, self-selecting one's images can increase self-esteem.

So, if you are on the hunt for ways to boost your self-esteem, then consider creating a Facebook profile, if you don't already have one.

Facebook can build self-esteem through the:

  • self-selection of photos and profile images
  • self-selection of profile details
  • overwhelmingly positive comments that are received and given

Positive and negative effects of Facebook

While the Cornell University study shows that Facebook can boost self-esteem in the short term, other studies show that its overuse can have negative effects on teenagers.
While the Cornell University study shows that Facebook can boost self-esteem in the short term, other studies show that its overuse can have negative effects on teenagers. | Source

Psychological benefits of Facebook

The psychological benefits of Facebook are real. Perhaps this explains why so many teenagers are constantly engaged with Facebook. Without realizing it, teenagers may have discovered how to build self-esteem and feel good, at least in the short term.

While parents know that teenagers and self-esteem issues go hand-in-hand, parents should still set limits to the time their kids spend on social media. Other studies reveal that there are negative effects of Facebook on teenagers, especially when it is over used. "All things in moderation," is advice definitely worth heeding when it comes to limiting time that teenagers use Facebook and other forms of social media.

While the Facebook/Mirror study shows interesting results, it should just be taken at face value (no pun intended). It certainly is an eye-opener, revealing that self selective presentation can indeed influence one's self-esteem. But, further studies on the flipside should occur. For example, does Facebook cause self-doubt? What influence does Facebook have on self-esteem after viewing friends' profiles? Does Facebook incite feelings of envy? These are all valid questions, and since social media is here to stay, certainly worth studying.


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    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Deb, I was surprised when I initially read the study, but I do see how the things people self-select to post on Facebook about themselves (pictures and words) can improve self-esteem. I guess it becomes sort of a presentation of one's ideal self. Personally, I have no purpose for using Facebook, but I absolutely see how it can become sort of an addiction. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      Deb Welch 

      7 years ago

      This was an unusual and intelligent take on FaceBook, sharing. Have you ever noticed that some mirrors make you look different? Such as my bathroom mirror is a large dressing mirror and it makes me look old, ugly and overweight and I am not quite. I became addicted to FaceBook - a few years ago,dropped out and closed my account. I opened a new account this year and use it not the same as before. I agree that young people can benefit in many ways - they live in a new time zone. Useful and Interesting.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you Ania for your very interesting comment. I think what we may do is scrutinize our reality in mirrors, yet compare ourselves to how we perceive others to be, like famous people. In other words, we don't necessarily compare apples-to-apples. I agree with you about Facebook. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Ania L profile image

      Ania L 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Very interesting study although I was quite surprised to read that self-reflection is an objective image. I mean I know it is true that what we see in the real mirror is the reality but how often we don't actually see it as it is but perceive ourselves through self-doubt lenses. We keep comparing our reflections to famous of the worlds and we think we are not good enough (too fat, too big nose, too small eyes, not pretty, etc.) while in fact we look quite ok don't we?

      I quite dislike people showing off on Facebook, it rather annoys me but hey, maybe we all need it just to keep the balance :)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      8 years ago from The Caribbean

      Wow! These findings are interesting. I just listed another positive in favor of the beloved FB.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Steph, You bring up a really good point about possible differences between the sexes. I think a studying measuring self-esteem of teens after viewing facebook, including friends' profiles, would be interesting, especially if the results were broken down by male and female.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Completely fascinating! My teenagers have Facebook pages and I've wondered about the impact on self-esteem. Then again, they are both boys. When my daughter gets old enough for FB, I might be more worried. Wonder about the difference between the sexes? Voted up and interesting - loved the article. Steph

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you Christin. After writing this article, I couldn't help but wonder if HubPages may give its writers a similar boost in self-esteem. Afterall, we selectively choose profile photos, details about ourselves to reveal in our profiles, and pretty much overwhelmingly positive comments from readers. Just a thought ...

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 

      8 years ago from Midwest

      This was a very interesting hub and I can see how having selective control over how you present yourself could certainly have some benefits. I enjoyed this hub very much and will pass it on - very unique and engaging.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you for your comment Capric222. When you stop and think about it, it seems obvious that people would choose to create an image of themselves on social media, the way they want others to perceive them, but it never occurred to me that this could even boost self-esteem in the short term.

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Melbel. I am completely in the non-facebook using camp myself. I seriously just don't see the attraction to it for adults (outside of keeping in contact with far away family), but as a mother of older teens I certainly see why kids want to use it here and there. I appreciate your kind words.

    • Capric222 profile image


      8 years ago

      I really like what you have written. It is very interesting and I never really thought about it. I can see how it would be better because you are able to portray yourself in a way that you want to be seen. Anyway, thanks for sharing this it is wonderful!

    • melbel profile image


      8 years ago from Midwest, USA

      I avoid Facebook at all costs. It seriously just tears me apart. :(

      Great hub on this topic. Your hubs are always so heartwarming and uplifting. :)

    • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Trapp 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Hi blog8withJ. But after spying on everyone, then you have to make sure you look good or better than everyone else - at least that what I think kids do :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      That's interesting..., I thought facebook is only for!


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