The negative effects of Instagram on adolescent mental health

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Rachel Rodgers is Associate Professor of Applied Psychology at the Bouvé College of Health Sciences in Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman / Northeastern University

As of at least March 2020, Facebook officials have known that Instagram, the photo-sharing app owned by Facebook, Inc., has the power to make teens feel less good about their bodies, report says internal. got through The Wall Street Journal.

“Thirty-two percent of teenage girls said that when they felt bad in their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” Facebook researchers wrote in the presentation on Instagram’s negative effects, according to the Newspaper.

The effect may have as much to do with the mechanics of the app itself as it does with its audience, says Rachel Rodgers, associate professor of applied psychology at Northeastern. The highly visual nature of youth-favored social media platforms (TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram) places social significance on appearance, says Rodgers, who studies socio-cultural influences on body image and dietary concerns. At the same time, adolescents attracted to them continue to develop their identity.

“It’s a bit like animals whose shells are still growing to protect them; it’s a really vulnerable time, ”she said.

But, says Rodgers, there is a way to engage with these social platforms in a more balanced and healthy way. It just takes a lot of work.

What do you think of the conclusions about the negative effects of Instagram obtained by The Wall Street Journal?

I can’t comment on what Facebook may have collected in terms of their own data or how they went about it, but I’m basically thinking about whether these platforms and others are related or not. to negative impacts on mental health, especially among young people — we know, from a lot of independent research, that this has been shown to be the case.

Particularly in the areas I know best, we know there are effects on young people’s feelings about their appearance, body satisfaction, and social media platforms can increase the risk of eating disorders and eating disorders. other mental health issues such as depression and hypocrisy. valued. We know that cyberbullying occurs among young people, we know that for some young people, the consequences can be extremely damaging. There is no doubt that substantial research shows that these platforms can have a negative effect on young people.

How does using these types of social media apps have such an effect on mental health?

There is a conjunction between what it is about the application and what it is about the public.

In my opinion, which is backed up by the data, there are a lot of things that make apps deleterious: There’s the fact that the apps most popular with young people are very visual. You only consume images, and you are also encouraged to produce only images of yourself. Both of these things lead you to thinking that your appearance is a really important part of you – if you only see photos of other people and only post photos of yourself, it emphasizes that appearance is. a very important part of self-esteem, which we know is a risky way of looking at appearance because appearance will inherently change over time.

These apps are also highly interactive – one of the points of the post is getting feedback. Obviously you always hope that the feedback is positive, but not every young person knows that this is not always the case, either because they have received negative feedback themselves or because they have seen someone receive it. negative feedback. In a conceptualization where you are only worth what your image is, it is a direct reflection of your worth as a person. So, it becomes very impactful.

And then there is the fact that there is a real blur between the interests of companies and the interests of individuals.

Then you associate those characteristics with younger people who are developing their identity. As an older adult, there are a number of things in your life that you can achieve that can put appearance in the background or compensate for a negative experience, but when you are 14 you don’t. not that. It’s a bit like animals whose shells are still growing to protect them; it’s a really vulnerable time.

How is the experience of viewing images on Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok different from consuming them in magazines?

Teens are still developing an understanding of marketing intent and the amount of affection and retention that goes into the pictures in any type of message, really. The level of literacy around the fact that these images are highly organized and often digitally altered is really variable. You hear people say, “Well, this is a video on TikTok so it has to be real because you can’t edit the videos.” And of course you can filter videos just like you can filter photos. There is a lag around the likelihood that this has been changed in some way and how “real” is that?

But there is also some difficulty in understanding that while this post does not explicitly sell me a product, it was placed here with a special intention of self-promotion. No one posts on social media in the hope that people think they’re unattractive, unpopular, someone you wouldn’t want to date.

There is also the added downside of algorithms which can fill your ad feed based on what interests you, how does that play a role?

If we think about adolescence and the importance of standards: if you think what you see is the same as what everyone else sees, that peer pressure will have a much stronger impact on you than, say, someone who is 25 years old.

Is there a way to engage with these apps as a younger person who will be healthier or more balanced?

I think so, and I think there are inherent limitations to these apps.

Some of the difficulties with software are the difficulty of telling algorithms that you don’t like something. You can try to play them by overexposing them to the things you want to see, and that will sort of automatically reduce the things you don’t see. But Facebook and Instagram don’t have disgust functions, it’s really hard to say “I don’t like this, I don’t want to see it”.

Beach handball players compete in the 2018 Summer Olympics.

The other thing is, they’re very visual – it’s really hard to interact on Snapchat or Instagram that isn’t about appearance, because the text just isn’t a part of it.

I think young people can interact with these better and some of them really do, but when they describe it you see how difficult it is and how it has to be deliberate and how, in some ways, sort of distinguishes them. You can spend a lot of time getting the algorithms to learn the kind of things you’re interested in, and then they’ll show you prosocial content. [content that encourages prosocial behavior, or behavior through which people benefit others] or brands that prioritize corporate responsibility or sustainability or whatever your values.

You can also be very thoughtful about who you follow, what you follow, to try and manage your online space. You can be careful about how much time you spend on it. You can choose not to participate in the pressure to make yourself highly visible, but again this is expensive as a youngster because it means asking people not to tag you, and explaining that you don’t have one when. people ask for your username.

I think it’s a little telling that the best way to do it healthily is to not do it.

Do these companies have a responsibility towards young people who use their platforms to facilitate their use in a healthy way?

Personally, I would say that all of us, as human beings, have a responsibility to make the world a safe, fair and pro-social place. I agree that businesses do, and I think it’s true for all businesses: it’s true for clothing and beauty businesses, all businesses that profit from making people feel that their appearance is inadequate. I think this is also true for us and for other users. It’s a social responsibility, it’s something that the people who benefit the most from it should care about the most.

For media inquiries, please contact Shannon Nargi at s.nargi@northeastern.edu or 617-373-5718.


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