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30 March 2017

Why Instagram Can Lead to Lower Self-Esteem Among Young Adults

Keywords: internet, self-esteem, Australia & Oceania, media, personality, personality characteristics, social media, young adults, youth communication,

Social networking sites, such as Instagram, are increasingly popular among young adults. However, according to a study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, using Instagram can have harmful consequences. Especially when young adults compare themselves with others online and base their feelings of self-worth on approval from others, they experience lower self-esteem.

Take aways

  • Intensive Instagram use relates to lower self-esteem among young adults, but only for those whose feelings of self-worth depend upon approval of others.
  • Young adults whose self-worth depends on approval of others are more likely to compare themselves with others on Instagram, which in turn relates to lower self-esteem.
  • For parents and policy makers it is important to understand the mechanisms that link social network sites to lowered self-esteem. A better understanding might help identify youngsters at risk, and design interventions. 

Study information

  • The question?

    What is the effect of Instagram use on self-esteem among young adults? 

  • Who?

    237 young adults between the ages of 18 to 29 years (mean age: 23 years; 60% female). Most of the participants had a white/Caucasian background (85%). Participants had been using Instagram between 6 months and 3 years. They spent between 30 minutes and 5 hours on Instagram every day. 

  • Where?


  • How?

    The researchers used Facebook to recruit participants with an Instagram account. Once people were willing to participate in the study, they received a link to an online questionnaire. This questionnaire included questions regarding social comparison (“I often compare how I am doing socially with other people on Instagram”), intensity of Instagram use (“I feel part of my Instagram community”), self-esteem (“I feel that I am a person of worth, at lease on an equal plane to others”) and self-worth (“When I think I look attractive, I feel good about myself”). 

Facts and findings

  • The intensity of Instagram use was associated with lowered self-esteem, but only among participants who depended their self-worth upon approval of others. 
  • This was explained by the finding that those young adults were more likely to compare themselves with others on Instagram.
  • Furthermore, the more intensely young people used Instagram, the more they compared themselves with others on Instagram. This relation was even stronger for young adults whose feelings of self-worth depended upon approval from others. 
  • Critical note: We should interpret the results with caution as the direction of cause and effect is not clear. For example, it is possible that young adults’ low self-esteem leads to self-worth depending upon approval of others. Furthermore, the results are based on self-reported questionnaires. They might therefore be less reliable.