Your self-esteem might not be affected by the amount of Facebook friends other people have, study finds

Seeing Facebook profiles with more friends than you may not negatively affect your self-esteem, contrary to popular belief.

Facebook is the most popular social networking site, with 936 million daily users. There is a positive association between the amount of Facebook friends a person has and subjective well-being, but little research has been done based on other users’ friends on Facebook. The a new study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, aimed to examine if the amount of friends of another user would affect participants’ self-esteem. People naturally tend to compare themselves to others — people who compare themselves to inadequate people felt better; those who compared themselves to adequate people felt worse. To test if and how the amount of friends another person has would affect someone’s self-esteem, Tobias Greitemeyer of the University of Innsbruck conducted two studies.

The first study with 500 participants tested if the number of other user’s Facebook friends could influence people’s self-esteem. Participants were randomly exposed to Facebook users with many friends or with few friends. They were also exposed to either same-sex or other-sex Facebook profiles, as the gender of the other user was also taken into consideration. First, participants were exposed to Facebook profiles three times, with the profiles shown being identical save for number of friends. Then, participants were asked to how attractive and how popular each Facebook user seemed, and finally they completed a survey about their own self esteem. The first study found a weak correlation between the number of other’s Facebook friends affecting participant self-esteem. There was also no distinct difference between Facebook profiles of the same sex versus those of other-sex profiles.

The second study had 480 participants exposed to two Facebook profiles. Instead of profiles having only many or few friends, there was a third possibility: a moderate amount of Facebook friends. The procedure was the same as the first study, but participants were asked to express any thoughts they had about the profiles they viewed. It was noted especially when a participant had doubts about the authenticity of a profile owner’s friendships. The second study results showed self-esteem was not related to the amount of friends another Facebook user had. However, the second study provided important insight as to why there was such a weak correlation between self-esteem and other users’ friends. Participants were more likely to question whether Facebook friendships are real when the user has a large amount of friends. This could possibly be a defense mechanism which in turn restored the participants’ self-worth.

Based on these two studies, little evidence supported the link between low self-esteem and exposure to Facebook profiles with many friends. Previous research has shown that Facebook has an impact on users’ self-esteem, both positive and negative. On the positive side, it arises from simple use of Facebook as well as editing one’s profile. Negative impacts on self-esteem can originate from seeing other people’s profile information, which gives rise to jealousy, which in turn diminishes the experience of life satisfaction.

Greitemeyer makes note of a few limitations, especially the ages of the participants and the length of time participants were exposed to Facebook. Most participants were young adults, who are more likely to compare themselves to close friends. As well, participants were only exposed to Facebook for a short period of time, and further research would do well to examine the long term effects of Facebook on self-esteem.