Psychology study uncovers why people — including narcissists — use Instagram

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New research published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior has uncovered the major reasons people use the online photo- and video-sharing service Instagram.

The study, by Pavica Sheldon and Katherine Bryant of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, uncovered new motives for social media use that had not been identified in previous research. “As it is, we have learned that the reasons for using Instagram are somewhat unique and different from the reasons for using Facebook and other social media sites,” the researchers said.

The study of 239 college students found four main motives for Instagram use, which the researchers labelled as “Surveillance/Knowledge about others,” “Documentation,” “Coolness,” and “Creativity.”

Surveillance/Knowledge about others: The most influential motivation the participants reported was using Instagram to interact with their friends, keep track of other people’s activities, and see what other people share. A host of information about a person, including their relationship status and number of friends, can be discovered with a quick scroll through their posts.

Documentation: The participants also used Instagram to depict their life through photos, remember special events, share their activities with others, document the world around them, and to commemorate an event. The researchers noted that Instagram can act “as a kind of virtual photo album for many people.”

Coolness: Instagram is also used to enhance a person’s social status. The participants reported using Instagram to look cool, self-promote, and provide “visual status updates” for their friends.

Creativity: The least influential motivation the participants reported was using Instagram to create art and display photography skills.

Previous studies had identified surveillance and coolness as reasons for using social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, but not documentation and creativity.

Sheldon and Bryant also found that narcissism influenced Instagram use. Narcissists have an over-inflated sense of importance and demand admiration from others. Researchers believe social networking sites appeal to narcissists because it gives them the ability to completely control how they are presented to others.

The researchers found narcissism was related to using Instagram to appear cool and for surveillance. “Narcissists can post and manipulate specific photos to make themselves and their lives appear to be a certain way,” Sheldon and Bryant explained.

The researchers also discovered three other factors that influenced Instagram use. Those with a higher level of interpersonal interaction, meaning they often spend time communicating with friends and family, were more likely to use Instagram for surveillance, creativity, and coolness. Those who participated in more social activities were more likely to use Instagram for documentation. People who were more satisfied were less likely to use Instagram to appear cool.