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Social media has become a mirror through which we catch a glimpse of ourselves, literally through selfies and photos taken by others, and through how we react to one another, through our experience of online connectedness both on major social media platforms as well as through dating apps and live interactive online events—and through the prospect of fully immersive experiences in virtual reality, within which we can take on any identity we wish in a world freed from the laws of physics and logic.
Researchers in a study have found that increased social media use predicted body dissatisfaction one year later, and body dissatisfaction also predicted greater social media use, with a small but significant effect size. There were differences between men and women: Social media use and body dissatisfaction worked both ways for women, but for men, while body satisfaction predicted social media use, the reverse was not true in this sample. Being younger, female, and having a higher BMI were associated with greater body image dissatisfaction.
Another study focused on how women’s dating app use affected daily mood, body image, and eating behavior. Participants showed a correlation between lifetime dating app use and both disordered eating urges and negative mood. Neither idealized partner preference nor rejection sensitivity were correlated with eating or mood in this study.
Researchers looked at whether the coherence of sense of self, known as “self-concept clarity”, influenced social media users to compare themselves with online depictions of idealized slender bodies.
Participants with lower self-concept clarity compared themselves more with idealized body images and consequently reported greater body image dissatisfaction. The findings suggest that having a less well-developed sense of self increases the risk of negative reactions when browsing social media.
Another study looked at how physical health may be affected by the stress associated with social media use.
They found that greater social media use was associated with increased somatic symptoms, regardless of depression symptoms. Greater social media use was associated with more healthcare visits, also independent of depression. Finally, controlling for other factors (demographics, birth control use, depression, healthcare use), CRP levels were significantly elevated among those reporting greater social media use.
There's no denying that social media and all the other promises of evolving information technology and machine learning hold great potential to improve quality of life, but only if we slow down and study the effect of these spectacular new tools and learn to use them wisely.
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