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Viewing Facebook Profile Can Increase Self Esteem But Reduces Motivation to Perform Simple Tasks

By Sam Lehman | Jun 01, 2013 09:39 AM EDT

Four in five Facebook users log in from smartphone or tablet
Four in five Facebook users log in from smartphone or tablet (Photo : Reuters)

A new study has found that viewing own profiles on Facebook can boost self esteem in an individual but affects behavior.

A new study from a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of communication arts, Catalina Toma, shows spending time viewing own profiles on Facebook increases users' self-esteem. The study is the first to use a social psychology research tool, Implicit Association Test, to assess an individual's self esteem. The tests results showed a significant boost in self esteem by spending only five minutes on own Facebook profiles.

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The test results were based on the participants' association with positive and negative adjectives. "If you have high self-esteem, then you can very quickly associate words related to yourself with positive evaluations but have a difficult time associating words related to yourself with negative evaluations," Toma said, according to the Medical Xpress report. "But if you have low self-esteem, the opposite is true."

Toma also noted that the use of Implicit Association Test for the research gave substantial results as this test cannot be faked unlike the other self-reporting tools. "The Implicit Association Test removes this bias," Toma said.

As the results showed a boost in self esteem after spending few minutes viewing own Facebook profiles, Toma further assessed the effects on behavior with the exposure to Facebook. A serial subtraction task was conducted where participants could count down from a large number in intervals of seven.

Participants who showed greater self esteem in the first task while viewing their Facebook profiles, were found to have a reduction in performance in the second task as there was a decrease in their motivation to perform well. However, during the study Toma found that people who had boosted their self esteem by looking at their facebook profiles answered far lesser questions during the allotted time compared to people in a control group. The rate of errors committed in the test remained the same for both groups.

Toma said this could be because people usually feel the need to perform well in a task so that they can feel good about themselves. However, after looking at their Facebook profile, their self esteem is already boosted so the motivation to perform well in a task is reduced. 

At the end of the study Toma clarifies that this study cannot be taken as a broad conclusion about the impact of Facebook profile viewing on performance and motivation.

"This study shows that exposure to your own Facebook profile reduces motivation to perform well in a simple, hypothetical task," she says. "It does not show that Facebook use negatively affects college students' grades, for example. Future work is necessary to investigate the psychological effects of other Facebook activities, such as examining others' profiles or reading the newsfeed."

The findings will be published in the June issue of Media Psychology.

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