A new study published in Psychological Science has found that self-presentation on social media platforms differs between men and women, with each sex reporting more deceptive self-presentation for domains most relevant to their sex in the mating-context. Further, there were larger sex differences in deceptive self-presentation in countries with more gender equality.
Deceptive self-presentation refers to impression-management behaviors that aim to enhance one’s image to others through intentional, incorrect disclosures that can occur through any form – such as, text, images, videos, or location tags. In this work, Dasha Kolesnyk and colleagues explore 1) the extent to which men and women differ in deceptive self-presentation on social media in the domains of physical attractiveness and personal achievement, and 2) how gender equality in a given society influences such practices, and whether gender differences in deceptive self-presentation depend on gender equality.
Evolutionary theories suggest that ancestral men mostly valued women’s physical attractiveness (markers of health and fertility), while ancestral women mostly valued men’s ability to acquire resources (which increased the likelihood of their offspring surviving and thriving). Sexual-selection theories posit that mate preferences determine the domains in which intrasexual competition – competition among members of the same sex – is most intense. Thus, deceptive self-presentation in these areas could prove useful in attracting mates. In this case, men should be more likely to misrepresent their successes, while women should be more likely to misrepresent their physical attractiveness.
Gender equality could influence behaviours associated with mating, given that egalitarian societies allow for more flexibility in gender roles. For example, women in gender equal societies often do not require a partner for financial security, and men are able to devote more time to their families, rather than primarily focusing on acquiring financial resources.
The researchers highlight two competing hypotheses. The attenuation hypothesis would predict that in societies where men and women have more equal opportunities, gender differences in deceptive self-presentation would be smaller. In such societies, the ability to earn money would be equally important for both men and women; women would be less inclined to consider marriage for financial security, while men would place greater importance on their appearance. Thus, it’s possible that these reduced pressures would eliminate constraints for trade-offs between beauty and resources.
Some studies suggest that mating-related gender differences are more amplified in egalitarian societies. The amplification hypothesis would predict that reduced pressure would not only enable greater flexibility in trait trade-offs, but also increase the pool of other relevant traits (e.g., kindness). For example, if kindness (vs. financial resources) could match a man with an attractive woman, “then evolutionarily formed preferences for beautiful women can be successfully pursued by more men.” This hypothesis would predict that there would be a larger gender gap in deceptive self-presentation in gender-equal societies.
A pilot study including 790 participants was conducted to determine lay beliefs about gender differences in deceptive self-presentation. The results provided support that men were more likely to misrepresent their successes, however, it offered no clear prediction with regard to physical attractiveness. Lay beliefs also favored the attenuation hypothesis, suggesting the gender gap in deceptive self-presentation is smaller in more egalitarian societies.
The main study tested these lay beliefs using data from a larger project conducted in 2016, which included participants from 25 countries. A total of 12,257 adults between the ages of 18-90 were involved in this project. Deceptive self-presentation was measured using eight items, such as, “On [name of preferred social network], I have… lied about my age to appear more attractive” or “… made it appear as if I had a job that I did not have.” Given that providing answers to one’s deceptive behaviours is sensitive, “the randomized-response technique” was used to administer the questionnaire, a method that encourages honest responses.
A national-level measure of gender equality was obtained using three indicators: one indicator based on averages of women’s health, education, employment and social equality; a second indicator based on gender differences in income, education, and representation in government; and a third indicator based on the average number of children in families (believed to limit women’s resources/career opportunities).
Age, employment status, relationship status, educational level, preferred social media platform, and number of years using this platform, were used as control variables. A dummy variable indicating whether GDP was in the top 33% was included as a control variable to ensure gender equality effects were not a product of GDP differences between countries.
Kolesnyk and colleagues found that men and women engage in deceptive self-presentation mostly for qualities that are traditionally relevant for evaluations by the opposite sex. While women were more likely than men to deceive about looks, men were more likely than women to deceive about personal successes. Further, higher gender equality was associated with lower deceptive self-presentation in the domain of physical appearance, but not personal achievement. This suggests that women’s preference for partners with equal or higher access to resources persists despite increases in women’s socioeconomic status.
Globally, higher gender equality was associated with lower deceptive self-presentation for both men and women. While people’s lay beliefs favoured the attenuation hypothesis, the large-scale study supported the amplification hypothesis. There were larger gender differences in deceptive self-presentation in countries with higher gender equality, as there was less gender-atypical (vs. gender-typical) deceptive self-presentation in such countries. “That is, the drop in deceptive self-presentation about physical attractiveness associated with gender equality was significantly larger for men than for women,” the researchers said.
The study, “Gender Gaps in Deceptive Self-Presentation on Social-Media Platforms Vary With Gender Equality: A Multinational Investigation”, was authored by Dasha Kolesnyk, Martijn G. de Jong, and Rik Pieters.