Do you use social media? If so, what kind of things do you post? Pictures of your dinner, political statements, selfies, relationship updates? The majority of us use social media, whether it’s to talk about our kids, raise awareness for a cause or declare our undying love for our partner. As a result, it’s only natural that psychologists have started using it as a way to delve into our minds. So what can social media psychology tell us?
Social media psychology can reveal more than we think, or want
Whether we like it or not, whenever we post on social media there’s an agenda behind it. These agendas are easier to see in some posts than others.
For example, selfies. Why do people put up pictures of themselves that have been filtered and had all reality photo-shopped out from them? For others to compliment them and boost their self-esteem, obviously.
“Don’t you think it’s strange when someone has photographs of themselves everywhere? It’s like they’re trying to prove that they exist.” – Candace Bushnell
Other kinds of social media posts are not so easy to unravel, but psychology can help us with that. Every time we post, we reveal something about our personality. But it’s the type of posts we tend to put out that are revealing.
Think about it. You are only going to expend your time and energy on the things that are important to you. Therefore, whatever ends up on your Facebook or Instagram feed will certainly register pretty high up in your priorities. So what sort of things are we talking about?
Why we post on social media
Psychologists say that there are several reasons we post on social media:
- Self-expression: (telling stories/jokes, complaining, disclosing personal information)
- Need for validation: (posting selfies, attention-seeking, wanting acceptance)
- Communication: (corresponding with family, connecting with friends)
- Sharing impersonal information: (posting current affairs, news events, political stories)
We use these reasons to disclose information on social media. So we talk about our social activities, our significant relationships, our accomplishments, intellectual pursuits, diet and exercise and everyday lives.
What the Big Five post on social media
Extroverts tend to use social media to post about their social life. They also use it to connect with others to arrange meetings.
Extroverts love to post pictures of their escapades, not because they are showing off, but because they want others to see what a fun time they are having. They will also have a large number of friends and their main use of social media sites is communication.
Those with a neurotic personality tend to talk about personal and emotional dramas online. They are looking for the emotional support and validation they might not be getting in real life. They’ll talk about their partners and children and ask for advice.
At the same time, they won’t have that many friends online, but they will share incredibly personal stuff because they need a response.
People with open minds like to use social media to exchange new ideas. This is hardly surprising as open-mindedness is associated with creativity, curiosity, and an intellectual mind.
Therefore, these types of people are using sites like Facebook to learn and pass on interesting facts. They love to share and update people on intellectual stuff.
Agreeableness is associated with cooperating, mediating, and helpful behaviour. You can tell someone with this trait as their posts are always positive and encouraging to others.
However, they don’t like attention-seeking behaviour or people who badmouth others. Their main intention when posting is simply communication and updates regarding their social activities and family life.
Of all the Big Five Personality Types, this one posts the least on social media. However, when they do, they don’t post to draw attention or acceptance from others. Nor do they badmouth people. They tend to share ‘safe’ topics like social updates and current affairs.
Now that we’ve sorted personalities into groups, let’s drill down a little and explore specifics. What does it mean if you always post selfies? If your posts are political? Do you raise awareness about climate change? Is your wall chock-full of family pictures?
Posting Photographs on Social Media
A new study examined the differences between male and female selfie posters and the personality traits they shared. It showed that men who frequently posted selfies scored higher on narcissism and psychopathy scales. However, psychopathy was not linked to editing selfies, whereas narcissism was.
As for women, selfie-posting is linked to self-objectification. Self-objectification means valuing yourself just for your appearance, not your achievements.
This isn’t at all surprising in today’s world, where a person’s appearance has to be perfect. It becomes a self-fulfilling action when a woman posts a selfie, then receives positive remarks, this boosts her self-esteem and she’ll continue this action.
If a woman frequently posts selfies, it indicates a need for recognition and approval and a high level of vanity.
People who post pictures of themselves with their partner are saying, in a very loud voice to the world – “I am loved, I am worthy of this amazing partner, look how happy I am, I am needed.”
Perhaps they have not been lucky in love before, or they are trying to say something to an ex-partner. But people who are happy in relationships don’t need to broadcast it.
Family and Children
You are happy with your life and your children and family are your proudest achievements.
Pictures of nature indicate satisfaction with life in general unless they are accompanied by climate change warnings. It can also signify a yearning for a slower pace in life.
Are you always posting pictures of the food you receive in restaurants or stuff you’ve cooked at home? One-off Instagram-worthy pics of high-end nosh in fancy restaurants show an appreciation of good food, but if you are always posting them then you’re simply saying to your mates – “Look where I can afford to eat.”
It’s a low self-esteem thing.
Posting comments on social media
One study revealed that people who post constant updates about their partner are more likely to have low self-esteem.
Diet and Exercise
Constant posts about a new diet or the exercise routine you are doing are a sign of narcissism. It indicates a need for attention. Think about it, who cares if you’re on a diet or you went to the gym? Only you.
People who share viral content that is popular have a need to belong and get their validation from others. The actual content won’t matter to them, it’s the reaction from their audience – their friends that is important.
You have a strong opinion and you don’t care who agrees with you, or what people think about you. You want to change people’s minds and are not afraid of confrontation. However, you can ostracise people that don’t share your views.
What social media psychology can teach us
It’s not at all surprising that the psychology of social media behaviors can help us understand our personality traits. Our posts are windows into our everyday lives. The interesting thing is that if we know what our posts reveal, will changing them affect our personalities?
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