A new study has found that Facebook can have a positive influence on the self-esteem of college students.
This is probably because Facebook allows them to put their best face forward, said Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communication at Cornell University and co-author of "Mirror, Mirror on my Facebook Wall: Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem" published Feb. 24 in the peer-reviewed journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.
Hancock said users can choose what they reveal about themselves and filter anything that might reflect badly. Feedback from friends posted publicly on Facebook profiles also tends to be overwhelmingly positive, which can further boost self-esteem, he said.
"Unlike a mirror, which reminds us of who we really are and may have a negative effect on self-esteem if that image does match with our ideal, Facebook can show a positive version of ourselves," Hancock said. "We're not saying that it's a deceptive version of self, but it's a positive one."
In the study, 63 Cornell students were left alone in the university's Social Media Lab; they were seated either at computers that showed their Facebook profiles or at computers that were turned off. Some of the off computers had a mirror propped against the screen; others had no mirror.
Those on Facebook were allowed to spend three minutes on the page, exploring only their own profiles and associated tabs. They were then given a questionnaire designed to measure their self-esteem.
Participants looking in a mirror and those in control groups were given the same questionnaire.
While their reports showed no elevation in self-esteem, those who had used Facebook gave much more positive feedback about themselves. Those who had edited their Facebook profiles during the exercise had the highest self-esteem.
"For many people, there's an automatic assumption that the Internet is bad. This is one of the first studies to show that there's a psychological benefit of Facebook," Hancock said.
The lead author of the study, Amy Gonzales, received her Ph.D. from the Communication Department at Cornell in 2010. She is now a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society scholar at the University of Pennsylvania.
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