Psychological and personality characteristics predict false self-presentation on Facebook

As we scroll through our newsfeeds, many of us suspect that our friends’ Facebook profiles may really not be accurate representations of their real lives. Recent research published in Frontiers in Psychology focused on various personality characteristics that lead to developing a “false Facebook self”. Collectively, this research suggests false self-presentation is incredibly common—7.5 percent of users showed observable differences between their real self and Facebook self. Findings also suggested that this false Facebook self is influenced by an individual’s personality characteristics.

In this study, 258 Facebook users were asked about their attachment style (which measures relationship closeness/quality), authenticity, and Facebook self-presentation. They found that people with low self-esteem and low authenticity were more likely to have a false Facebook-self.

The researchers also found that participants’ relationship attachment styles predicted their likelihood of having a false Facebook-self. In particular, the researchers compared people with avoidant attachment characteristics (who would likely have few friends and put less effort into maintaining friendships) and anxious attachment characteristics (who would likely have many friends but get less satisfaction from these friendships).  People who were high in avoidant attachment characteristics were more likely to have a false Facebook-self, as were people high in anxious attachment characteristics.

Relationships were also observed between participants’ attachment styles, their self-esteem, and authenticity. Both anxious and avoidant attachment were linked to lower authenticity and lower self-esteem. In addition, Facebook users who were high in authenticity were also likely to have high self-esteem, whereas users who were low in authenticity were also likely to have low self-esteem.

Social media, and Facebook in particular, is a relatively new phenomenon. Until recently, not much was known about how different people utilize social media. These research findings guide our understanding of whether certain uses for Facebook is problematic.

While these findings shed light on the potential causes of false self-presentation on Facebook, the researchers pointed out that benefits and consequences of doing so are still unclear. Existing theories on false identity suggest that in the short-term, false self-presentations may be advantageous—people may use misrepresentations to seem more likeable or advance their careers.

However, these theories also suggest that misrepresenting the self can also have negative consequences in the long-term. “Future research should consider the adverse consequences and treatments of high levels of false Facebook-self,” the authors said, as it may possibly “serve as a gateway behavior to more problematic behaviors which may lead to psychological problems and even pathologies.”