The researchers conclude that Facebook simply lets people represent themselves in the best light, and receive affirming feedback from friends about these profiles, which results in warm and fuzziness. Like the study’s co-author, Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communication at Cornell University, says in the official press release:
Unlike a mirror, which reminds us of who we really are and may have a negative effect on self-esteem if that image does match with our ideal, Facebook can show a positive version of ourselves,… We’re not saying that it’s a deceptive version of self, but it’s a positive one. For many people, there’s an automatic assumption that the Internet is bad. This is one of the first studies to show that there’s a psychological benefit of Facebook.Maybe he meant to say this one’s the first study to show a positive psychological benefit of Facebook for students. We’ve seen countless other studies showing the site has very positive effects, such as helping people achieve goals through positive peer pressure. Plus almost every week we encounter happy stories about Facebook reuniting loved ones separated from one another, helping physicians save lives, law enforcement officers to find criminals — the list goes on.
Now we’re not disagreeing with the findings of the study, which jibe with our observations of behavior on Facebook. But we wonder whether the survey size of just 63 students makes a representative sample, especially because they all go to the same school. So it’s interesting to see that this research made it into a peer review journal called Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. The novelty of the research’s methods — literally comparing the effects of a mirror versus Facebook — probably tipped the scales toward getting this research published.
So Facebook doesn’t hold a mirror up to people but rather lets them create their own online personae, and that boosts self esteem among Cornell students. We’d love to see research on other demographics undergoing the mirror-versus-social media treatment.
Readers, what do you think about the findings of this study?