Study: Browsing Facebook for Just 3 Minutes Improves Students' Self-Esteem

A new study finds that Facebook can improve childrens' self-esteem. What did the Cornell researchers discover?

The evolution of social media has prompted much academic investigation into the impacts of Facebook on youth. How will the social network affect a new generation of children coming of age in a digital information age?

While we’ve heard if the potential negative implications of Facebook, like cyber-bullying and eating disorders, a new study suggests that Facebook may actually improve student’s self-confidence.

The study was released in “Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking,” a journal dedicated to exploring the impact of Internet, multi-media, and virtual reality on behavior and society, found that Facebook boosts self-esteem..

Amy Gonzales and Jeffrey Hancock, two researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, wanted to measure student’s immediate self-perception directly after they engaged with Facebook. They collected information from surveying a random sample of 63 students in the university’s social media lab. Half the students were asked to surf their Facebook profiles, while others were asked to look at a black screen, some of which had mirrors propped against the screen.

After three minutes, the students were given a self-esteem questionnaire. Gonzales and Hancock found that the “mirror and screen” group saw no rise in self-esteem, whereas the Facebook profile surfers responded in a manner that demonstrated an increase in self-confidence.

“Unlike a mirror, which reminds us of who we really are and may have a negative effect on self-esteem […] Facebook can show a positive version of ourselves,” Hancock said in an interview with the Cornell Chronicle.

What the study can’t measure, however, is why. Why do students viewing their own profiles feel more confident and respond more positively to self-esteem questionnaires than those faced with their “real” selves?

The answer likely has to do with self-fashioning. On the internet, especially on social media sites like Facebook, users have more control on the image they project. A Facebook user gets to choose their profile picture, their photos, and their profile information, fashioning an idealized version of themselves for the world. “We’re not saying that [a Facebook profile] a deceptive version of self” said Gonzalez, “but it’s a positive one.”

When I grew up, Facebook didn’t exist. Me and a generation of now twenty-somethings used to make friends the old way – in school, at camp, or on sport’s teams. It wasn’t until my first year of university that I heard of a social networking site developed by the smarties at Harvard. Soon, everyone was on, including my web-savvy younger cousins, who were just entering high school as they created their first profiles. Now, I log onto Facebook, and friends display pictures and videos of their kids, who will grow up within what McLuhan once called “the Global Village,” a social nexus of interconnectivity. If social networking sites are changing our world – which they are – it’s important to measure the societal impacts.

Both Hancock and Gonzales will continue researching the impact of social media on youths, though they remain open- minded about what they’ll find: “I think that saying that Facebook and the Internet is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is naive and overly simplistic,” says Gonzalez. “Facebook and the Internet aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Given that, I want to know what that means for human behavior and what implications it may have for human psychology. This is just one small study trying to get at those effects.”