Have you had a bad day?
Have you received a ruthless criticism?
Have you been rejected a project?
Has something not gone according to your plans?
Then you are more likely to check Facebook.
A new research at the University of Wisconsin found that we often unconsciously turn to this social network to calm our wounded egos.
The effects of Facebook on the ego
Psychologists wondered if there is any relationship between the use of Facebook and our ego. They recruited 88 college students and asked them to give a short speech. While the participants waited for comments, they were allowed to look at their Facebook profile or someone else’s.
Within a few minutes they received a negative feedback on their speech, regardless of how well or poorly they did it, and were asked to rate how accurate that criticism was. Interestingly, people who had looked at their profile on Facebook were less defensive when they received a negative feedback, compared to those who looked at someone else’s profile.
This made the researchers suspect that browsing the Facebook profile could have a direct impact on our ego. So they devised a second experiment.
On this occasion, the students received positive or negative comments about their speech. But this time they were given the ability to browse their Facebook profile or other sites, such as YouTube or news websites. The psychologists noted that those who received negative comments were more likely to choose Facebook than people who received positive feedback. However, they could not explain their choice.
These results suggest that Facebook profiles could be used as a self-assertion strategy to drop the wounded ego.
How does Facebook feed the ego?
Everything seems to indicate that we turn to social networks in search of comfort when things do not go as expected and our ego is badly hurt. They become a kind of compensation mechanism to ease the pain that has caused us a criticism or a humiliation. In fact, the “likes” and supportive comments we receive on our posts are known to have a positive effect on our self-esteem.
However, the psychological impact of our profile on social networks like Facebook goes further. Another very interesting study carried out at Texas Tech University found that choosing a true self-representation on the social media profile (providing an honest reflection of ourselves and our life) only produced happiness for people with high self-esteem.
However, strategic self-representation, which means choosing only positive content to create a more favorable impression of ourselves, made both people with high self-esteem and those with low self-esteem happy.
That means that our profile on Facebook or other social networks reminds us of our most positive characteristics, those of which we are particularly proud, which helps us to feed our self-esteem and repair the damage that our ego has suffered.
In fact, self-assertion is a process that occurs largely through our everyday activities. We all experience the need to see ourselves as good persons and worthy. We meet that need when we become aware of the defining aspects of our identity, such as values, goals, and positive personal relationships. Our profiles on social networks remind us exactly our best version.
Therefore, the researchers conclude that “The extraordinary amount of time that people spend on Facebook may be a reflection of their desire to satisfy the ego’s needs, which are fundamental to the human condition.”
Not all that glitters is gold
We must not forget that in many cases our profiles on social networks represent an idealized version of ourselves, with photos, publications and content with which we identify and approve. That can help us calm a hurt ego and increase our self-esteem. But we must ensure that it does not become the norm.
Seeking comfort in an idealized image of ourselves is like trying to protect ourselves from a bombardment in a glass house. In the long run, it won’t solve anything. When we experience a setback or a major problem, escaping on social media will not solve the problem. The best is to do an introspection and an auto-analysis exercise to learn from mistakes and grow.
Jang, W. et. Al. (2018) Self-esteem moderates the influence of self-presentation style on Facebook users’ sense of subjective well-being. Computers in Human Behavior; 85: 190-199.
C. L. Toma & J. T. Hancock. (2013) Self-Affirmation Underlies Facebook Use. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin; 39 (3): 321.